The Indian Space Research Organisation successfully completed the Integrated Main Parachute Airdrop Test (IMAT) of Gaganyaan’s crew module deceleration system on Friday, November 18, marking a significant ‘milestone’ for the Gaganyaan Programme. The Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, where many Gaganyaan activities are being carried out, conducted this major development test at the Babina Field Fire Range (BFFR) in Jhansi district, Uttar Pradesh.
The Gaganyaan Programme aims to demonstrate indigenous capability to undertake human spaceflight missions to low-Earth orbit.
All about ISRO’s Parachute Airdrop Test
The Parachute system for the Gaganyaan crew module consists of 10 parachutes. During the descent of Gaganyaan astronauts towards Earth in the future, two apex cover separation parachutes will be deployed in the initial stage. These parachutes serve as protection covers for the crew module parachute deployment. After this, two drogue parachutes will be deployed to stabilise the descent and bring down the velocity of the astronauts.
After the release of drogue parachutes, three pilot chutes will be used to extract three main parachutes individually, ISRO says on its website. This will help reduce the speed of the Gaganyaan crew module to safe levels before landing. Of the three main parachutes, two are sufficient to land the astronauts on Earth. The third parachute is redundant.
Complex testing methods such as rail track rocket sled (RTRS) will test the performance of the smaller parachutes, and aircraft or helicopters will evaluate the performance of the main parachutes. A rocket sled is a test platform that slides along a set of rails, propelled by rockets, and provides a controlled environment for high-velocity impact, aerodynamic and acceleration tests for articles such as payloads, aircraft and missiles, among others.
Significance of the airdrop test for Gaganyaan’s parachute system
The Integrated Main Parachute Airdrop Test is important because it simulated a scenario in which one main parachute failed to open. This parachute test is the first in a series of tests planned to simulate different failure conditions of the Gaganyaan Parachute system. The system will be deemed qualified to be used in the first human spaceflight mission if all the tests are successful.
In order to conduct the airdrop test, a five-tonne dummy mass, equivalent to the crew module mass, was taken to an altitude of 2.5 kilometres, and dropped using the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) IL-76 aircraft.
According to ISRO, the fully inflated main parachutes reduced the payload speed to a safe landing speed during the test, which lasted about two to three minutes. The airdrop test was successful, as the payload mass landed softly on the ground.
ISRO and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) have designed and developed the parachute-based deceleration system for the Gaganyaan crew module.
Despite the fact that one of the main parachutes failed to open in this simulated test, the inflated main parachutes successfully landed the payload on the ground. In this way, the first in a series of development tests planned to evaluate the performance of the Gaganyaan parachute system was successful.
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All about the Gaganyaan Programme
Three flights will be sent to low-Earth orbit as part of the Gaganyaan Programme. These include two unmanned flights and one human spaceflight.
According to ISRO, the objectives of the uncrewed missions are technology demonstration, safety and reliability verification. The missions are aimed at studying the spacecraft systems before conducting the first crewed spaceflight.
Gaganyaan 1 is the first of the test flights, and is expected to be launched in 2023. It will be an uncrewed test flight in which the Gaganyaan crew capsule will be launched.
As part of Gaganyaan 1, the spacecraft will be launched to an altitude of 15 kilometres. Space scientists will simulate an abort scenario to ensure the return of the crew capsule to Earth, using parachutes.
Gaganyaan 2, the second uncrewed mission of the Gaganyaan Programme, is likely to be launched next year. A spacefaring humanoid robot, called Vyommitra, will be sent to outer space, as part of Gaganyaan 2.
Gaganyaan 2 will take the crew capsule to an altitude higher than that for Gaganyaan 1. An abort scenario similar to its predecessor will be simulated to perfect the system for Gaganyaan 2.
Gaganyaan 3, the first crewed Gaganyaan mission, will be launched no earlier than 2024. ISRO will send at least two astronauts into low-Earth orbit, after assessing the outcome of the two orbital flight tests, Gaganyaan 1 and 2.
The IAF has identified four fighter pilots as the potential crew for Gaganyaan 3. The potential crew has undergone basic training in Russia.
The astronaut trainees will be selected from a pool of test pilots, and will have to undergo fitness tests, and psychological and aeromedical evaluation.
If Gaganyaan 3 is successful, India will become the fourth nation to independently send humans to space, after the Soviet Union, United States, and China.
India’s next focus will be towards achieving a sustained human presence in space.
The upcoming missions will enhance the technological capabilities of the nation and will make a significant contribution to scientific research and development.