October 23rd, 2023
The Indian Space Research Organization achieved a significant milestone in its Gaganyaan program with the successful completion of a high-altitude abort test for its crewed spacecraft.
TV-D1 — Test Vehicle Abort Mission 1 — was an uncrewed test of the launch escape system for the Gaganyaan spacecraft, bringing India closer to its goal of independently sending astronauts to space as early as 2025. If successful, it would make the South Asian country the fourth independent nation capable of such a feat, behind Russia, the United States and China.
Liftoff took place at 12:30 a.m. EDT (04:30 UTC) Oct. 21 at the First Launch Pad of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, located along the coast of the Bay of Bengal. Using a modified liquid-fueled booster from the country’s GSLV rocket, the flight aimed to test the abort capabilities of the crew escape system in high-altitude conditions.
The whole launch stack with the booster and launch escape system was about 115 feet (35 meters) tall. The booster section was 64 feet (19.5 meters) tall and 6.9 feet (2.1 meters) wide, while the crew escape system section was 51 feet (15.5 meters) tall and some 13.3 feet (4.05 meters) wide.
About 61 seconds into flight, at an altitude of about 7.4 miles (11.9 kilometers) while traveling a little faster than the speed of sound, the crew escape system was activated, pulling the Gaganyaan capsule away from the modified GSLV booster.
Several seconds later, the crew module separated from the escape system tower. At that point it was at about 10.5 miles (16.9 kilometers) in altitude traveling around 342 miles (550 kilometers) an hour.
During the capsule’s descent, a drogue chute was deployed to slow and stabilize its descent before the three main parachutes were deployed at around 1.6 miles (2.5 kilometers) above the Bay of Bengal.
Splashdown occurred roughly 10 minutes later before being recovered by the Indian navy just off the coast of Sriharikota.
The launch escape system is a tractor design, meaning it pulls the capsule away from the rocket in the event of a failure. This is what is used for Russia’s Soyuz, China’s Shenzhou and the United States’ Orion spacecraft, as well as the Apollo and Mercury programs in the 1960s and 70s. SpaceX’s Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner both utilize a pusher system for aborts.
Gaganyaan is a term derived from the Sanskrit words “gagana” meaning celestial and “yana” meaning craft. This “celestial craft” includes a 11.5-foot (3.5-meter) diameter capsule that is shaped like a gumdrop, similar to SpaceX’s first-generation Dragon spacecraft. The entire system, including the service module, is expected to be equipped with solar arrays for power and weigh approximately 18,100 pounds (8,200 kilograms).
The Indian Space Resource Organization has been systematically testing the Gaganyaan spacecraft, with significant milestones such as a reentry test in December 2014 and a pad abort test in July 2018.
As early as the second half of 2024, India plans to send the first uncrewed Gaganyaan spacecraft into low Earth orbit to test its various systems. A crewed flight is planned for sometime in 2025 and is expected to include three Indian astronauts.
For full orbital missions, Gaganyaan will ride to space atop a human rated LVM3 rocket, which has so far completed seven successful uncrewed missions with no failures. This rocket has generally been used to send communications satellites into geostationary orbit.
Recently, in the wake of India’s successful robotic Chandrayaan-3 Moon landing, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a goal to send Indian astronauts to the Moon by 2040 after completing a human-tended space station in low Earth orbit by 2035. Furthermore, the nation has shown its commitment to international space cooperation by signing the U.S.-led Artemis Accords, highlighting its intent to work collaboratively with other spacefaring nations.
Video courtesy of SciNews
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.