In the Gaganyaan mission, the first of three flights was scheduled within a year, initial two flights to be unmanned but with humanoids onboard.
The training of the four Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots who are in Russia for 11 months of advance training for the Gaganyaan Human Mission has been put on hold due to lockdown due to global pandemic of COVID-19. The mission is expected to be launched in 2022 from India and is likely to carry these astronauts into low earth orbit in Space. “These pilots were expected to come back end of the year and get on with the module-specific training in India. All this has now been pushed back, as the Russia leg of the training will only finish next year,” explained a top officer who wished to remain anonymous.
“Russia’s Gagarin Research & Test Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC) located at Star City, about 30km from Moscow has been regularly training crew for more than fifty years. Not only the Russian cosmonauts, but astronauts from various other countries, including the USA also go there for training,” Milind Kulshreshtha, C4I expert.
Crew training and Gaganyaan’s systems testing are two most critical activities listed for Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) this year. This was announced by the ISRO chairman K Sivan during a media interaction earlier this year.
ISRO’s Human Spaceflight Centre (HSFC) is involved in the mission planning, Systems Engineering for human survival in space, up to the stage of crew selection and training. In the Gaganyaan mission, the first of three flights was scheduled within a year, initial two flights to be unmanned but with humanoids onboard.
Locked down effect
Even ISRO scientists are all working from home and through video conferencing. However, some scientists are out to work on projects following strict COVID-19 Social Distancing Protocols.
The R&D and manufacturing is not progressing and this is expected to have an impact on mission plans for the first Gaganyaan launch with a Humanoid.
Specialized Training at Russia
Milind Kulshreshtha, C4I expert says, “The Russian Training Centre has tailor-made specialized equipment and gadgets to ensure specific mission-related training. This involves simulating the launch, space flight and reentry procedure, with such technology not yet developed in India.”
He highlights the space training facilities at the Centre in Russia, which includes:
This is to assist in astronavigation knowledge of the crew and for taking measurements using optical instruments. In this a planetarium facility recreating the sky as would be encountered by the crew has been created. This is to help the astronauts get used to this as they will see this during their scheduled flight and same as would be visible from the spacecraft window during the transit.
Short-term weightlessness training aboard aircraft to enhance crew skills and sense of orientation in weightlessness environment.
This is to attune space crew’s central nervous system to tolerate high gravitational effect experienced during the flight.
A full-scale spacecraft module has been recreated in a pool for crew practice working inside a spacecraft, wearing a heavy spacesuit. The model is immersible in water using hydraulic mechanism.
Virtual Main Control Centre
A simulated Main Control Console is used for training the pilots individually and for activities as a team.”
ISRO’s Future Missions
ISRO had planned launch of some major missions in next one year, with Gagaanyan-1 aimed by end of this year. Solar spacecraft Aditya and Chandrayaan-3 were also major missions scheduled by2021. The on-schedule launch of GISAT-1 onboard GSLV-F10 rocket on March 5, 2020 too got postponed just a day prior to launch due to ‘some’ technical reason, as announced by ISRO.
With the focus of the government on funding fight against COVID-19 pandemic, all strategic projects are likely to have budget restrictions. The Ministry of Defence has already announced hold on capital procurements at least for this quarter and future capital procurements too are under a shadow for now.
The likelihood that ISRO projects which are under strategic category too shall face a slowdown, not only due to pandemic restriction in work process flow but due to budget constraints in the future.