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India’s Gaganyaan mission takes another step forward as it acquires the crew module fairing

Print edition : Aug 04, 2022 T+T-

India’s Gaganyaan mission takes another step forward as it acquires the crew module fairing

ISRO has acquired the first of the critical Crew Module Fairings that will be used for an inflight test demonstration.

ISRO has acquired the first of the critical Crew Module Fairings that will be used for an inflight test demonstration.

Gaganyaan, India’s first manned space flight, has gotten a timely boost with the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO’s) Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) acquiring the all-important crew module fairing (CMF). The crew fairing will be utilised by VSSC to demonstrate inflight the critical crew escape system.

Machined, iodised and manufactured by Alpha-Tocol Engineering Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of Alpha Design Technology Limited (ADTL), with materials and the design and specifications provided by India’s national space agency, the fairing will provide critical protection to Gaganyaan’s payload—the crew module that carries the astronauts—both during its launch and, more importantly, when the spacecraft’s payload reenters the earth’s atmosphere after separation. On the completion of a space mission, it is the crew module fairing that separates from the launch vehicle and lands in the sea and is then retrieved by recovery boats as part of the recovery protocol.

Talking to Frontline Colonel H.S. Shankar (Retd), chairman and managing director of the Alpha Group of Companies and ADTL, explained that the CMF is the protective structure that protects the crew sitting inside the spaceship. Said Colonel Shankar: “The fairing will provide cover to the astronauts. It will protect them against the impact of dynamic pressure and aerodynamic heating both during launch as the spacecraft travels through the atmosphere. The crew module protects the crew during ascent. The test vehicle will be used to perform in-flight abort tests. ”

Colonel Shankar added that Alpha-Tocol Engineering Services had won the right to supply three CMFs to ISRO in a competitive bid. He disclosed that the remaining two CMFs would be delivered during “the next three to four months”.

Speaking to Frontline, Dr Unnikrishnan Nair S., Director, VSSC, disclosed that the CMF will be taken to VSSC and then to ISRO’s Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) SHAR, Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh.

Meanwhile, the test vehicle which will protect the crew module during ascent and will be used to perform in-flight abort tests, is getting ready at the ISRO Propulsion Complex (IPRC) in Mahendragiri in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district. The integration of both the crew module and other systems will happen at SDSC in preparation for the launch. The launch demonstration of in-flight abort with test vehicle and crew escape system will take place in the second half of 2022.

While the inflight demonstrator/simulation will naturally have no human cargo, the instrumentation and several hundred sensors on board will record various mission performance parameters during the flight-test, and in the words of the VSSC Director, “measure the acceleration and other parameters of the launch vehicle as it accelerates through transonic speeds going from subsonic to supersonic, thereby allowing scientists on the ground to co-relate these readings with human physiological conditions and limits”.

In July 2018, in a forerunner to the inflight simulation test, ISRO, had, through a technology demonstrator, successfully flight-tested their crew escape system. The technology demonstrator was the first step to qualify the national space agency’s Crew Escape System, which is a critical technology relevant for human spaceflight.

The July 2018 Crew Escape System technology demonstrator demonstrated the safe recovery of the crew module in case of any exigency at the launch pad. During the test, the crew module had reached an altitude of nearly 2.7 km under the power of its seven specifically designed quick acting solid motors that are designed to take away the crew module to a safe distance without exceeding the safe g-levels.

Said an official: “Also known as the Pad Abort Test, the 259 seconds test, during which the Crew Escape System along with the crew module soared skyward, then arced out over the Bay of Bengal and floated back to Earth under its parachutes about 2.9 km from Sriharikota, was the first step. We are now preparing for the inflight test.”

Unnikrishnan Nair reiterated that Gaganyaan’s unmanned first flight would happen in 2023, with the first manned flight taking place in 2024. Said Unnikrishnan Nair: “In a programme like Gaganyaan, the first flight will always be slightly delayed; primarily because it involves critical new designs, new hardware being delivered by industry, testing, authentication, etc. Safety is paramount. One slip can push the programme many years behind.”