Sriharikota: On Saturday, India’s ambitious human space mission, Gaganyaan, achieved a significant milestone with the successful launch of its Test Vehicle-D1 (TV-D1). The test vehicle, aimed at demonstrating the crew escape system, lifted off from the first launch pad at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) rocket port. After minor delays due to weather conditions and technical glitches, the mission finally took off at 10 a.m. This mission, known as Flight Test Vehicle Abort Mission-1, is the first of four test flights planned by ISRO to ensure astronaut safety in the event of a rocket failure.
Ensuring Astronaut Safety: The Crew Escape System
The crew escape system is a critical component designed to protect astronauts’ lives in case of an emergency. Similar to a fighter pilot ejecting from a fighter plane, the crew module containing the astronauts is separated from the rocket and descends safely to the sea using parachutes. The system is a vital fail-safe measure to ensure the safety of astronauts during space missions.
Gaganyaan: India’s First Human Space Mission
The primary goal of Gaganyaan, India’s first human space mission, is to send astronauts into space. Planned for 2025, this historic mission aims to put India on the map as a spacefaring nation. The crew escape system testing is a crucial step in ensuring the safety of astronauts during this groundbreaking mission.
The Anatomy of the Test Vehicle-D1 (TV-D1):
The test vehicle, standing at a height of approximately 35 meters and weighing around 44 tonnes, is powered by a modified Vikas engine using liquid fuel. It features a crew module and the crew escape system mounted at the front end of the rocket.
The entire flight sequence, from lift-off to the crew module’s touchdown in the sea with parachute deployment, takes approximately 531 seconds, or nine minutes.
61 seconds into the flight, at an altitude of 11.9 km, the test vehicle and crew escape system are separated.
At 91 seconds after lift-off, at an altitude of 16.9 km, the crew module and crew escape system are separated.
Autonomous Abort Sequence:
After separation, the autonomous abort sequence commences, including the deployment of parachutes. This sequence ensures the safe touchdown of the crew module in the sea, approximately 10 km from the coast of Sriharikota.
Crew Module Specifications:
The crew module is an unpressurized aluminum structure weighing 4,520 kg. It replicates the size and mass of the actual Gaganyaan crew module, housing all necessary systems for deceleration and recovery. The crew module features avionics systems configured in dual redundant mode for navigation, sequencing, telemetry, instrumentation, and power.
Instrumentation and Data Collection:
The crew module is extensively instrumented to capture flight data, enabling the evaluation of various systems. Parachutes with pyro systems are used for deceleration, with deployment initiated when the crew module reaches an altitude of approximately 17 km.
The crew module splashes down in the sea approximately 10 km from the launch pad at Sriharikota, where it remains afloat. Recovery ships approach the module, and a team of divers attach a buoy, hoisting it using a ship crane. Finally, the crew module is brought to the shore. The crew escape system touches down at about 14 km from Sriharikota.
Significant Milestone: Towards India’s First Manned Space Mission
This test mission, featuring a nearly complete crew module and crew escape system, is a pivotal milestone for the Gaganyaan program. The success of this test flight sets the stage for remaining qualification tests and unmanned missions, ultimately leading to the first Gaganyaan mission with Indian astronauts. The Gaganyaan program is poised to mark a historic moment in India’s space exploration journey, firmly establishing the nation’s presence in human spaceflight.