ISRO has successfully completed the testing of the cryogenic engine for its Gaganyaan mission

  • The Indian Space Research Organisation(ISRO) recently announced India’s first human spaceflight mission known as the Gaganyaan mission set to launch in 2023.
  • The mission will involve two uncrewed and one crewed spaceflight involving three astronauts including one woman, who will orbit the earth at 400 km altitude for five to seven days before splashing down at the Bay of Bengal.
  • 3Today, ISRO successfully tested a core building block of the mission, its powerful cryogenic engine at its testing facility in Mahendragiri, Tamil Nadu.

The world has recently witnessed a boom in space tourism and the pace of development in the space sector in general. In America, the space agency NASA has forged fruitful collaborations with private players such as business magnate Elon Musk’s space and telecommunications company, SpaceX technologies. The collaboration resulted in a history-creating, record-breaking mission named the Inspiration4 mission. This mission took a bunch of 4 civilians or untrained astronauts to space and orbited around Earth for 3 days before splashing back down in the Atlantic ocean. Similarly, “space race” became a common term thrown around households due to billionaires such as Amazon ex-CEO Jeff Bezos and Virgin Group owner, Richard Branson, each taking their own commercial space flights to different points around the Earth’s orbit.

That being said, India may have lagged behind in the same regard. Our national space organization, The Indian Space Research Organization(ISRO), is yet to create strong, viable partnerships with the numerous space startups cropping up under the umbrella of private players in the sector. However, that being said, the Union Minister of Atomic Energy and Space bore good news as he informed the citizens regarding ISRO’s upcoming Gaganyaan mission.

What is the Gaganyaan mission?

The Gaganyaan Mission is an Indian crewed orbital spacecraft that was designed intending to form the blueprint to develop the Indian Human Spaceflight Programme. The autonomous capsule will orbit the Earth at an expected 400 km altitude for up to seven days with a three-person crew on board. The first crewed mission was originally planned to be launched by ISRO in December 2021 but since then owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, been delayed to no earlier than 2023.

Under the Gaganyaan schedule, a total of three flights will be sent into orbit. There will be two unmanned flights and one human spaceflight. The payload is expected to consist of: a crew module and a service module.

The crew module is a fully autonomous spacecraft designed to carry a three-member crew to orbit and safely return to the Earth after a mission duration of up to seven days. The crew module is equipped with two parachutes for ensuring a safe splashdown upon return to Earth by reducing the speed of the module. The capsule will also have life support and environmental control systems. It will be equipped with an emergency mission abort and a Crew Escape System (CES) that can be activated during the first stage or second stage of the mission.

The service module, on the other hand, is powered by liquid propellant engines. This module will help in the orbit-raising maneuver of Gaganyaan to reach 400 km in low earth orbit (LEO). It will also help the module to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere whereupon it will detach from the Crew module. It will use a unified bipropellant system consisting of MON-3 and Monomethylhydrazine as oxidizer and fuel and have five main engines designed by ISRO. The GSLV Mk III also called the LVM-3 (Launch Vehicle Mark-3,) which is India’s three-stage heavy-lift launch vehicle, will be used to launch Gaganyaan as it has the necessary payload capability.

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) manufactured the crew module. The first uncrewed experimental flight for Gaganyaan was completed on 18 December 2014. As of May 2019, the design of the crew module was completed. Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) will provide basic support for several critical human-centric systems and technologies like space-grade food, crew healthcare, radiation measurement and protection, parachutes for the safe recovery of the crew module, and fire suppression system. Russian companies will also provide life support systems and thermal control for Gaganyaan while also manufacturing customized IVA flight suits for Indian astronauts.

The roadmap to success for Gaganyaan

ISRO will perform four biological and two physical science experiments related to micro-gravity during the Gaganyaan mission. The payloads will be tested by the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST), University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad (UASD), Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), IIT Patna, Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT), and Jawaharlal Nehru Center for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR). Out of the five, two are biological experiments that will be conducted by IIST, UASD, and TIFR that will include research on kidney stone formation. IIT Patna will run an experiment on the heat sink that can handle very high heat flux, IICT will perform crystallization phenomenon and JNCASR will check fluid mixing characteristics

India has already successfully developed and tested several building blocks of the Gaganyaan mission, including re-entry space capsule, pad abort test, safe crew ejection mechanism in case of the rocket failure, flight suit developed by Defence Bioengineering and Electromedical Laboratory (DEBEL), and the powerful GSLV-MkIII launch vehicle itself.

Today, however, ISRO added another feather to its cap by successfully conducting the qualification testing for the cryogenic engine for Gaganyaan. The cryogenic engine was tested for a duration of 720 seconds at the ISRO Propulsion Complex (IPRC) at Mahendragiri, Tamil Nadu. According to the official statement, the performance of the engine met the test objectives and the engine parameters were closely matching with the predictions during the entire duration of the test. Further, it was also announced that this engine will undergo four more tests for a cumulative duration of 1810 seconds. Subsequently, one more engine will undergo two short-duration tests and one long-duration test to complete the cryogenic engine qualification for Gaganyaan Programme.

Significance of the Gaganyaan Mission and future programs

The Gaganyaan mission will have long-lasting impacts. It will help in the enhancement of science and technology levels in the country and help inspire youth. Gaganyaan will involve numerous agencies, laboratories, industries, and departments. It will also help in the development of technology for social benefits. ISRO aims to use this mission to improve international collaboration. If successful, the Gaganyaan mission will help India join an elite club of nations such as America, China, and Russia in having developed a human spaceflight program.

Other upcoming missions by the ISRO include Shukrayaan Venus Mission, which aimed to orbit the planet Venus for four years, The L-1 Aditya Solar, India’s first scientific expedition to study the Sun. Also, there’s the highly anticipated Chandrayaan-3 mission to the moon.


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