India’s ISRO Conducts First Pad Abort Test of its Crew Escape System

India’s national space agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), conducted the first pad abort test of its Crew Escape System on July 5, 2018, demonstrating the safe recovery of the crew module in case of any exigency at the launch pad.

This major technology demonstration test is the first in a series of tests to qualify a Crew Escape System, which is a critical technology relevant for human spaceflight. The Crew Escape System is an emergency escape measure designed to quickly pull the crew module along with the astronauts to a safe distance from the launch vehicle in the event of a launch abort.

After a smooth countdown of 5 hours, the Crew Escape System along with the simulated crew module with a mass of 12.6 tonnes, lifted off at 07.00 AM (IST) at the opening of the launch window from its pad at Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota. The test was over in 259 seconds, during which the Crew Escape System along with crew module soared skyward, then arced out over the Bay of Bengal and floated back to Earth under its parachutes about 2.9 km from Sriharikota.

The crew module reached an altitude of nearly 2.7 km under the power of its seven specifically designed quick acting solid motors to take away the crew module to a safe distance without exceeding the safe g-levels. Nearly 300 sensors recorded various mission performance parameters during the test flight. Three recovery boats are being exercised to retrieve the module as part of the recovery protocol.

The test was part of India’s proposed human spaceflight programme to develop a fully autonomous orbital vehicle to carry a two-member crew into a low-Earth orbit (LEO) and safely return them to Earth after a mission duration of a few orbits to two days.

There is no time-frame set for this, as manned space programme is not approved by the Government of India. Since the ISRO does not have a human-rated launch vehicle or the budget from the government to undertake such a flight, it is not expected to occur before 2024.

The first mission is expected to be carried out on board a home-grown Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III (GSLV-III) rocket. GSLV-III, also called as Launch Vehicle Mark 3 (LVM3), is a three-stage medium-lift launch vehicle developed by the ISRO and is the largest and the heaviest rocket ever made by India.

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