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Monday, September 21, 2020

Explained: Zvezda, the Russian firm making suits for India’s Gaganyaan astronauts

Established in 1952 as Factory No. 918, Zvezda is a Russian company which primarily designs, develops and produces portable life support systems for aircraft and spacecraft crew.

Written by Amitava Chakraborty , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: September 13, 2020 11:27:42 am
Currently, the firm is not only making spacesuits for Indian astronauts who will travel to space as part of the Gaganyaan Mission but also their individual seats and custom-made couch liners.

Glavkosmos, a subsidiary of the Roscosmos, the space agency of the Russian federations, announced on September 7 that Zvezda, a research and development enterprise, has started manufacturing space suits for Indian astronauts, who are likely to be part of the Gaganyaan mission. Glavkosmos CEO Dmitry Loskutov said, “On September 3, Indian cosmonauts who have been training for a spaceflight in Russia under the contract of Glavkosmos, visited Zvezda, where their anthropometric parameters were measured for the subsequent production of spacesuits.”

What is Zvezda?

Established in 1952 as Factory No. 918, Zvezda is a Russian company which primarily designs, develops and produces portable life support systems for aircraft and spacecraft crew. The systems created by the company are also used in military and civil airplanes in Russia and abroad. Zvezda has also made significant contributions to the development of the International Space Station. Located 26 km southeast of Moscow, in Tomilino, Zvezda is known for having developed most of the Russian spacesuits, including Yuri Gagarin’s (the first human to travel to space) in 1961. Gagarin’s suit still remains on display at the company’s factory in Tomilino. Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, who became the first human to conduct a spacewalk in 1965, also wore a spacesuit developed by Zvezda. So was the flight jacket worn by Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to fly in space in June 1963.

Other than spacesuits, what else does Zvezda manufacture?

Following its establishment, Factory No. 918, as Zvezda was known then, also designed rocket-powered sledges to send animals to space. In the 1950s, many countries sent animals to space to test the survivability of human spaceflights. Zvezda’s work in this field paved the way to send Laika, a Soviet dog and one of the first animals to visit space, on the Sputnik 2 on November 3, 1957, to orbit the earth.

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Among other things, space toilets have been designed and developed by the company over the decades. Zvezda is also well known for its ejection seat, which has saved the lives of numerous pilots across the world.

What is Zvezda’s role in India’s Gaganyaan mission?

Currently, the firm is not only making spacesuits for Indian astronauts who will travel to space as part of the Gaganyaan Mission but also their individual seats and custom-made couch liners.

What is Gaganyaan mission?

India’s maiden manned spaceflight, a part of the Gaganyaan mission, is expected to carry three people to space for seven days. The mission was announced in August 2018 and will be completed before the 75th Independence Day in 2022. As part of the mission, there will be three launches — two unmanned followed by a manned one. The launch of the manned spacecraft is likely to take place in December 2021 or January 2022, after the astronauts complete their training by the first quarter of 2021.

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Where are the astronauts being trained?

Four Indian Air Force fighter pilots are undergoing training at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Russia. The training programme, which began in February 2020, was put on hold following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. It was again resumed in May.

What all are they being taught in Russia?

The Indian Space Research Organisation’s Human Spaceflight Centre in Bengaluru has signed a contract with Gavkosmos in June 2019 for the training of the four pilots. According to a statement issued by Roscosmos in August 2020, the astronaut-elects are attending “courses of the general space training programme and of the systems of the Soyuz MS crewed spacecraft”. The statement further added that in June, “the Indian astronauts-elect passed training in short-term weightlessness mode aboard the IL-76MDK special laboratory aircraft, and in July, they were trained to lift aboard a helicopter while evacuating from the descent module landing point.”

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