Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.
From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:
Prelims level: Particulars of the Gaganyaan
Mains level: India’s aspiration for a manned mission in Space
- With PM’s announcement that an Indian astronaut would go into space by 2022, ISRO has finally got a definitive timeline for a project it has been working on for the last 15 years.
- In 2004 the manned space mission was first endorsed by the ISRO Policy Planning Committee.
- There was lack of clarity on when exactly the mission would be launched, although the target initially in discussion was 2015.
Defining a manned-Mission
- A manned space mission is very different from all other missions that ISRO has so far completed.
- In terms of complexity and ambition, even the missions to the Moon (Chandrayaan) and Mars (Mangalyaan) are nowhere in comparison.
- For a manned mission, the key distinguishing capabilities that ISRO has had to develop include the ability to bring the spacecraft back to Earth after flight, and to build a spacecraft in which astronauts can live in Earth-like conditions in space.
- Over the years, ISRO has successfully tested many of the technologies that are required, but many others are still to be developed and tested.
The rocket: GSLV Mk-III
- One of the most important requirements is the development of a launch vehicle that can carry heavy payloads into space.
- The spacecraft carrying human beings, called crew module, is likely to weigh in excess of 5 to 6 tonnes.
- ISRO successfully tested GSLV Mk-III, now called LVM-3 (Launch Vehicle Mark-3).
- It successfully launched the first developmental flight of LVM-3, which carried the GSAT-19 satellite into space.
- The LVM-3 is the declared launch vehicle for taking the manned crew module into space as it will help for sending up heavier and heavier payloads.
Reentry & recovery tech
- The satellites normally launched by ISRO, like those for communication or remote sensing, are meant to remain in space, even when their life is over.
- Any manned spacecraft, however, needs to come back. This involves mastering of the highly complicated and dangerous reentry and recovery ability.
- While reentering Earth’s atmosphere, the spacecraft needs to withstand very high temperatures, in excess of several thousand degrees, which is created due to friction.
- Also, the spacecraft needs to reenter the atmosphere at a very precise speed and angle, and even the slightest deviation could end in disaster.
- The first successful experimental flight of GSLV Mk-III also involved the successful testing of an experimental crew module that came back to Earth after being taken to an altitude of 126 km into space.
- Called the Crew module Atmospheric Reentry Experiment (CARE), the spacecraft reentered the atmosphere at about 80 km altitude and landed in the sea near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Crew Escape System
- This is a crucial safety technology, involving an emergency escape mechanism for the astronauts in case of a faulty launch.
- The mechanism ensures the crew module gets an advance warning of anything going wrong with the rocket, and pulls it away to a safe distance, after which it can be landed either on sea or on land with the help of attached parachutes.
- ISRO has completed the first successful flight of the crew escape system (the recent Pad Abort Test).
- The Environmental Control & Life Support System (ECLSS) is meant to ensure that conditions inside the crew module are suitable for humans to live comfortably.
- The inside of the crew module is a twin-walled sealed structure that will recreate Earth-like conditions for the astronauts.
- It would be designed to carry two or three astronauts.
- The ECLSS maintains a steady cabin pressure and air composition, removes carbon dioxide and other harmful gases, controls temperature and humidity, and manages parameters like fire detection and suppression, food and water management, and emergency support.
- While the layout and design of the ECLSS has been finalised, its many individual components and systems are in the process of being tested.
- The design and configuration of the inside of the crew module have also been finalised. Ground testing will have to be followed by tests in the space orbit while simulating zero gravity and deep vacuum.
- While ISRO still plans to set up a permanent facility, the selected candidates for the first manned mission will most likely train at a foreign facility.
- Candidates will need to train for at least two years in living in zero gravity and dealing with a variety of unexpected experiences of living in space.
- Some training would also be imparted at the Institute of Aerospace Medicine of the Indian Air Force at Bengaluru.