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Explained: Gaganyaan First Test Flight mission, timeline, objectives and more

On October 21, 2023, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will launch the Flight Test Vehicle Abort Mission-1 (TV-D1), marking a significant milestone in the Gaganyaan program. TV-D1 focuses on showcasing the in-flight abort capability of the Crew Escape System (CES) at a speed of Mach 1.2. Girish Linganna explains

Explained Gaganyaan First Test Flight mission, timeline, objectives and more
First Published Oct 20, 2023, 5:57 PM IST

The Indian Space Research Organisation is set to initiate unmanned flight tests as part of the Gaganyaan human spaceflight mission. At 8 am on October 21, ISRO will test the Flight Test Vehicle Abort Mission-1 (TV-D1), which demonstrates the performance of the Crew Escape System. This mission is focused on demonstrating the in-flight abort capability of the Crew Escape System (CES) at a speed of Mach 1.2 (approx 1400 km/hr). It involves using the newly developed Test Vehicle, followed by separating the Crew Module for safe recovery.

The Mission Timeframe

* Saturday's mission is anticipated to have a duration of 8.8 minutes.

* The 'In-flight Abort Demonstration' is scheduled to run for 8.8 minutes.

* This demonstration will replicate an abort scenario occurring during the ascent trajectory at 1.2 Mach, which is equivalent to 1,482 kilometres per hour.

* The Crew Escape System (CES) along with the Crew Module (CM) separates from the Test Vehicle (TV) at an altitude of 11.7 kilometres.

* The autonomous abort sequence initiates the separation of CES and CM at 16.6 kilometres.

* Parachutes are deployed, and the CM lands in the sea approximately 10 kilometres from the Sriharikota coast.

* An Indian Navy team will be responsible for the recovery of the CM following splashdown, while the CES and TV components will submerge in the sea.

Purpose of the Mission

* Flight test and assessment of test vehicle subsystems.

* Evaluation of the Crew Escape System, including multiple separation systems, through a flight demonstration.

* Demonstration of Crew Module attributes and deceleration systems at higher altitudes, followed by its recovery.

The Test Vehicle

The test vehicle is a single-stage rocket powered by liquid propulsion, equipped with a modified VIKAS engine. It features a Crew Module (CM) and Crew Escape System (CES) at its front end. Using a rocket derived from the GSLV L40 stage, the TV-D1, which marks the first developmental flight in the Gaganyaan program, will be launched to an altitude of up to 11 kilometres above sea level. 

During this flight, an in-flight abort situation will be triggered. Following the abort, the capsule is anticipated to continue its flight until it reaches an altitude of 16.6 kilometres.

The Mission Goal

The mission's primary objective is to evaluate the separation of the Crew Escape System (CES) from the rocket and observe its trajectory until it reaches a safe distance, at which point parachutes will be deployed. 

The capsule being tested will have the same weight as the crewed version. The successful execution of this mission would place India as the fourth nation globally, following Russia, the United States, and China, to achieve mastery in this technology.

Four Test Vehicle Abort Missions are scheduled. TV-1 and TV-2 are designated as technology demonstration missions, set to take place in 2023. TV-3 and TV-4 are planned for 2024, following the launch of the Gaganyaan-1 mission (with robotic payload).

The Crew Module

The Crew Module (CM) serves as the pressurized environment where astronauts are housed in conditions similar to Earth during the Gaganyaan mission. The CM for this mission is in various stages of development.

Specifically, for the Test Vehicle Abort Mission-1 (TV-D1), the CM is an unpressurized version that has undergone integration and testing and is ready for transport to the launch complex. This unpressurized CM version matches the size and weight of the actual Gaganyaan CM and contains all the necessary systems for deceleration and recovery. It is equipped with a complete set of parachutes, recovery aids actuation systems, and pyrotechnics.

The avionics systems within the CM operate in a dual redundant mode configuration to handle navigation, sequencing, telemetry, instrumentation, and power. 

For this mission, the CM is extensively equipped with instrumentation to collect flight data for assessing the performance of various systems. Upon landing in the Bay of Bengal, the Crew Module will be retrieved using a dedicated vessel and a diving team from the Indian Navy.

The mass of the Crew Module is 4,520 kilograms.

Stepping Stone for Safe Human Spaceflight

The Gaganyaan project's goal is to showcase India's ability to transport a crew of three individuals into a low earth orbit approximately 400 kilometres above Earth. Their mission will last for three days, and they will safely return to Earth by landing in a specified area within the Indian sea waters.

The Gaganyaan mission will employ ISRO's robust heavy-lift launcher, the LVM3 rocket, which includes a solid stage, a liquid stage, and a cryogenic stage. These components have been adapted and reconfigured to meet the stringent safety standards for human spaceflight and are referred to as human-rated LVM3 (HLVM3).

LVM3 has achieved a human rating, signifying that it incorporates ample safety margins.

The HLVM3 includes a Crew Escape System (CES) equipped with fast-acting, high-thrust solid motors. This system is designed to swiftly move the Crew Module (CM) and its occupants to a secure location in the event of an emergency, whether it occurs at the launch pad or during the ascent phase.

The Orbital Module (OM), which will circle Earth, is composed of the Crew Module and the Service Module (SM). The OM features advanced avionics systems that incorporate ample redundancy to ensure human safety.

The Crew Module provides a livable space with conditions similar to Earth for the crew. It's constructed with double walls, including a pressurized inner metallic structure and an unpressurized outer structure equipped with a thermal protection system. Within the Crew Module, you'll find crew interfaces, human-centred equipment, life support systems, avionics, and deceleration systems. It's also engineered for re-entry to guarantee the crew's safety during descent and landing.

The Service Module, on the other hand, serves as the support system for the Crew Module while it's in orbit. This unpressurized structure includes a thermal system, a propulsion system, power systems, avionics systems, and deployment mechanisms.

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