Spotlight also on Gaganyaan as astronauts are identified

M.Ramesh Chennai | Updated on September 06, 2019

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s JFK-style speech kickstarted the $1.4 billion Gaganyaan mission   -  PTI

First stage of selection involved physical, psychological test

The first time an Indian went into space, indeed to another planet, was way back in 1963 — but that was only in a Tamil movie. In Kalaiarasi, actor MG Ramachandran, who would dominate Tamil Nadu’s politics in later years, is forced to go to another planet after aliens abduct his lover-girl.

It took two more decades for an Indian to get to space — this time for real — when Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma rode a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft to space — and spoke to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi from up there.

That was a feat, but only a piggy-ride on foreign technology. Ever since, sending an Indian to space and bringing him back — through the fires of re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere — has been a rosy dream of India.

The dream is nearer than ever before. Today, India announced that a shortlist of astronauts for its ₹10,000-crore Gaganyaan, expected to hit the space in 2022.

The Gaganyaan has been in conception for a number of years, when in December 2014, the Indian space agency, ISRO, sent up to space and brought back a ‘CREW module’ — a bucket shaped chamber that can house three astronauts. It didn’t burn--it parachuted safely into the sea.

The next step was to build a radar that would monitor the descent of the CREW module, when in actual manned mission. This was achieved on May 15, 2015, when India successfully deployed a home-made radar that can track several small objects, half a square metre in size, a thousand kilometres away.

With the room for the men and the tracking radar ready, the next step was to make a rocket big enough to carry the heavy stuff into space. This has also become ready, with the recent successful launches of the GSLV-Mk-III rocket.

And today, the astronauts have been identified.

Bigger and better

It would help if ISRO could get ready an even bigger and better rocket — the GSLV Mk III with a semi-cryogenic engine. This is an extremely complex machine.

While a cryogenic engine sits on top of the rocket — where it would need to carry a smaller load — the semi-cryo will be a bigger engine that will start literally at the bottom. While the fuel will be at regular temperatures, the oxidiser will be cryogenic. This engine will need to provide a thrust of 200 tonnes, ten times as much as the regular cryogenic engine.

But ISRO hasn’t planned the Gaganyaan with a semi-cryo engine. The future manned machines, though, will be with the semi-cryo rocket for sure.




Published on September 06, 2019

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