iRead, iLearn, iWrite. Hence, iBlog.

For Indian Military, Nuclear & Space matters, visit:

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Flight Suit For India's Manned Space Mission

Preparations underway to safely propel the second Indian into outer Space, the first from within the country.

The forthcoming flight of the Indian Space Research Organisation's [ISRO] Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle [GSLV] this August 19, using an indigenously developed Cryogenic Upper Stage [CUS] engine, brings our attention, be it somewhat tangentially, to yet another one of its landmark goals - its Human Spaceflight programme. Upon validation of the GSLV's performance parameters, and more importantly reliability, ISRO would be in a position to carry out the task of human rating the Launch Vehicle [LV]. Although initially planned to carry it out with the current configuration of the GSLV, Mark II, delays in the programme, have lead some to speculate that the task may now be carried out with the more advanced Mark III variant, expected to make its maiden flight in 2014. Highly complex that unmanned missions already are, manned missions, understandably, pose an altogether new set of more imposing challenges, primarily that involving ensuring safe & comfortable operating conditions for the human space farers. This would require the myriad of ISRO's laboratories, involved in the manned programme, to undertake numerous projects to develop a number of completely new systems & technologies that weren't remotely required in any of its previous mission of the past 50 odd years of its marking India's presence in Space.

keep clicking on the image to view subsequent pictures [4 images in all]

One such critical piece of system, unique only to manned Space mission is the Flight Suit Indian Vyomnauts [Cosmonauts/Astronauts] would need to wear during their mission. Primarily to be worn during the lift-off & re-entry phases. This suit would be especially life-saving in case of any emergency, caused by failure of the Spacecraft's Life Support System [LSS], by cocooning the Vyomnaut in a pressurised micro-environment within which life can be sustained, with additional ability to communicate with the outside. This flight suite, currently under development, is believed to be 4 layered, each with specific purpose,

  • Layer 1 [innermost] - ensuring containment of the supplied oxygen within the suit, preventing it from leaking out.
  • Layer 2 - providing structural support to the innermost layer
  • Layer 3 - thermal insulation
  • Layer 4 [outermost] - provide physical protection, including flame retardant

In addition, work is also underway to develop a liquid-cooled garment to be worn underneath the flight suit which would dissipate the generated body heat & remove sweat. This three-layered garment would function by passing water through pipes sandwiched between two layers. When worn under normal circumstances, the it would simply allow the passage of air & environmental control as carried out by the Craft's LSS. In the the event of a catastrophe, it would function as the aforementioned cocoon, sealing in the human from the outside hazards. Equally critical it is to ensure that the human operator, even when wearing the suit in the pressurised state, is able to move his/her arms & limbs in a manner that allows him/her to perform the tasks expected. The expected limitation in vision & mobility can be judged from the fact that the suit is to be equipped with a mirror attached around the wrist region to ensure visibility of the front portion of the suit, by looking into the mirror.

Naturally, such suits would require ensuring fool-proof, leak-resistant fabrics & air-tight sealing between itself & outer attachments like pressure gauges & regulator, glove joints, helmet visors etc. The task of ensuring sealing is made even more difficult considering that one would move around wearing the suit. Based on the requirements drawn up, two prototype flight suits have initially been put together, that are being put through a battery of tests that include testing degree of freedom when the suit is pressurised, electrical connectivity for attachments like communication & crew health monitoring equipment, checking continuity of the cooling water channels &, highly critical, checking the pressurised suit for possible leaks in vacuum conditions. It is to be expected for the suit to undergo further refinement, based on the results of these tests.

It could be argued that a well-designed flight suit is one of those technologies that would lend the greatest confidence to ISRO & its Astronauts in undertaking the country's maiden Manned Space mission from within is borders - a red-letter day, it promises to be.


Also Read: India's Space Programme - A Socially Responsible Endeavour