On Oct. 21, at 05:00 a.m. CEST (03:00 UTC), two hours after a countdown hold at T -4″, a special single-stage liquid fuel rocket, called TV-D1, successfully tested the launch abort procedure at supersonic speeds (Mach 1.2) and the reentry of the capsule Gaganyaan in the Indian Ocean.
LAUNCH! ISRO's Gaganyaan test capsule launches on a single L40 booster, derived from the strap-on boosters used on the GSLV Mk. 2 rocket, to an altitude of around 11 – 17 kilometers before a test abort is called.— Chris Bergin – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) October 21, 2023
An important test
The Gaganyaan’s Crew Escape System (CES), is a traditional tower system, very similar in concept to the SAS in use on the Soyuz.
A system of solid-fuel rockets ensures, in the event of a launch abort within the first 140 seconds, the separation of the re-entry capsule of Gaganyaan from the rest of the launcher. The separation occurs while the capsule is still enclosed within the aerodynamic fairing which is provided, like Soyuz and Shenzhou, with aerodynamic fins for dynamic braking. The solid rockets propel the capsule to an altitude that ensures the safe opening of the main parachute.
Once released from the rocket tower, Gaganyaan continues its descent, braked first by the aerodynamic fins and, following the separation of the aerodynamic cover, by the opening of the main parachute. The capsule then lands in the Indian Ocean about 10 km from the launch site.
A first test of the device CES has already been successfully carried out on land. With this new flight test, its efficiency at supersonic speeds, which the vehicle reaches in the first 140 seconds after launch, was certified.
A system built ad hoc
A unique liquid-fueled single-stage launcher, borrowed from one of the boosters of middle-class launcher PSLV-XL, was used for the test. Named TV-D1, it brought the crew module to an altitude of 17 km (CM) together with the tower (CES) and to the protection fairing (CMF).
CM is a fully functional, but non-pressurized, version of the Module which will be used in subsequent unmanned tests and the first piloted flight. It was decided to implement all the onboard avionics to test its operation in conditions of high mechanical stress.
In this way, the test provided essential feedback which will allow ISRO to accelerate the schedule for the next tests, at least two unmanned, which will be carried out in 2024 using the launcher GSLV. Also, a capsule recovery test was carried out in the Indian Ocean, using the naval team and the support ship of the Indian Navy which will be used during operational flights.
The next steps
On October 17, 2023, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, announced that by 2035 India will have its own orbital station and, by 2040, the first Vymanauts will descend to the surface of the Moon.
To realize this ambitious program, the development of the piloted spacecraft Gaganyaan needs to proceed quickly and smoothly. For this reason, in 2024, at least two complete uncrewed orbital flights will be carried out using the entire system that will be certified for human flight, therefore the launcher GSLV-MkIII equipped with the new boosters HS200.
In January 2025, the first Gaganyaan with the first Vymanauts on board, a name derived from Sanskrit Vymana which designates flying objects, should allow the Asian nation to become the fourth nation in the world capable of launching humans into space using its vehicle.
From Vikram Sarabhai’s dream to today
It was in 1962 when Vikram Sarabhai constituted the Indian National Committee for Space Research which then became, in 1969, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). Already in 1963, on the shores of the Indian Ocean, the first launch base was built where the small rockets Rohini were transported on bicycles to be then mounted on the launch pads.
In 1975, in collaboration with the Soviet Union, as part of the program Interkosmos, the first satellite completely made in India was launched from Cosmodrome in Baikonur: Aryabhata. In 1980 Rohini-I was the first Indian satellite launched by a domestically produced carrier, SLV.
On April 3, 1984, Rakesh Sharma became the first Indian citizen to go into space, aboard Soyuz T-11, staying on board Saljut-7 for seven days. The contribution of Roscosmos was important in implementing the launch capacity of medium and heavy-class space vehicles. The collaboration is most notable in the technologies for cryogenic fuel engines, in launch infrastructures and, for the program Gaganyaan, in the development of spacesuits and the training of future Vymanauts.
Today ISRO amazed the world by successfully launching ambitious automatic missions around the Moon (Chandrayaan-1 in 2008), around Mars (Mars Orbiter Mission in 2013) until the successful moon landing of the lander Vikram and the rover Pragyan to the lunar surface with the mission Chandrayaan-3 in the summer 2023 and the launch of the solar probe in Aditya-L1, last September.