ISRO tweaking rocket to make it safe for human space flight

The rocket, which has undergone one experimental and one developmental flight until now, is expected to undergo 10 flights, including two in an unmanned human space launch vehicle form, before launching humans into space in 2022.

Written by Johnson T A | Bengaluru | Updated: September 16, 2018 12:18:00 pm
ISRO tweaking rocket to make it safe for human space flight ISRO’s high-end GSLV Mk III is the rocket designated for India’s first human space flight in 2022. (ISRO)

The Indian Space Research Organisation is making changes to its GSLV Mk III rocket to make it a vehicle conducive for a human space flight, a senior ISRO official said on Saturday.

For that, the rocket needs to be modified from its existing mission-critical design to a safety-critical design where redundacies are built to protect the lives of astronauts launched into space by the rocket, said S Somanath, director of ISRO’s Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, at an IAF aerospace medicine event.

“We are sure about the rockets but the rockets need to be upgraded to human-rated launch vehicles,” the VSSC director said during a presentation on ISRO’s preparedness for the 2022 human space programme. “We are now moving rockets from a mission-critical nature to a safety-critical nature where the human being comes into play in a rocket – where human life becomes more important,” Somanath said. “The human rating of the rocket includes improving reliability and stability of the launcher,” he said.

ISRO’s high-end GSLV Mk III is the rocket designated for India’s first human space flight in 2022. The rocket, which has undergone one experimental and one developmental flight until now, is expected to undergo 10 flights, including two in an unmanned human space launch vehicle form, before launching humans into space in 2022.

“The most important part of a human space flight is the ability to detect an imminent danger and take action to abort the mission. We need to have systems for this. We need onboard intelligence to see what is happening around and take action if anomalies develop,” Somanath said.

“We are now discussing the algorithms that will go inside in terms of instrumentation and processes in a computer and see if we can abort a mission without causing damage to the crew. This aspect is under review and we will be coming out with an architecture. The type of computers we will deploy will be Indian-origin micro processors,” the VSSC director said.

According to the scientist who was the director of a 2014 GSLV Mk III experimental flight -— where a Crew module Atmospheric Re-Entry Experiment or CARE, a precursor to the human space flight, was successfully demonstrated — the GSLV Mk III was designed with human space flights in mind but will still require upgradations to achieve a human-launch vehicle rating.

“When the GSLV Mk III was designed in the 2000-2002 time-frame, one of the important aspects addressed was that it must ultimately become a vehicle that takes a human to space. We were directed to keep the design conditions in such a way that acceleration, reliability, safety, vibration and other aspects are all addressed. This is why we are confidently speaking of a human space flight because all this is linked to the development of the GSLV Mk III,” he said on Saturday.

“Once the D1 GSLV Mk III happened in 2017, we have become more and more confident that the human space flight is possible to achieve. The GSLV Mk III is an intelligent system with built-in redundacies but for a final human rating, the redundancies needed are of a higher order. We are working on it,” Somanath said.

Several meetings have been held in recent weeks on this, he said. “Various aspects of this have already been addressed – the environment, the margins on the hardware, the interface with the launch pad, the redundancy on board and the checking out and clearing the rocket for launch,” the VSSC director pointed out.

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