Over the last couple of days, the Indian Coast Guard has been warning fishing vessels at sea about the imminent danger of a low-pressure area developing into a depression, in the Bay of Bengal. Ships and aircraft of the maritime search and rescue force have been advising fishers operating off the Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu coats to return to harbour, amid adverse sea conditions, in view of a storm that’s been brewing.
It is amid these sea conditions that the Indian Navy vessels and ISRO teams conducted the recovery of the 4.5 tonne Gaganyaan crew module, off the coast of the Indian spaceport in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh.
As per the Indian Meteorological Department, the well-marked low-pressure area is likely to develop into a depression by Sunday (Oct 22) and move North-westwards, intensifying further over the following week.
Notably, weather played a role in the delayed launch of the maiden Gaganyaan Test Vehicle mission, which took place Saturday (Oct 21) morning. Originally scheduled for 8:00 a.m., the mission was postponed to 8:30 p.m. and then 8:45 p.m.
Explaining the delay, and the resultant suspense, ISRO Chief Dr. S. Somanath said that the initial mission postponement was owing to weather-related issues. After the two weather-related delays, the mission also suffered another delay owing to an error in the system that was monitoring the rocket’s health.
Finally, it was at 10 a.m. that the ‘TV-D1’ vehicle lifted off to perform its 9-minute-long mission. As per plan, 61 seconds after lift-off, the vehicle reached an altitude of 11.9kms and a speed of Mach1.2(1481kmph) and that’s when the rocket shut down, as pre-programmed. Immediately, the Crew escape system triggered and the top portion of the rocket comprising the escape system and the crew module ejected themselves several kilometres higher and farther from the rocket. 90 seconds after lift-off, at around 17km altitude, the crew escape system and crew module separated. While the rocket and the crew escape system rapidly fell into the sea, the crew module used multiple parachutes to gradually descend and splash down, almost 10 km away from the spaceport’s shore.
As the crew module splashed down, two Indian ships INS Shakti, SCI Saraswati and smaller boats, waited at a safe distance to recover the empty capsule, WION has learnt. INS Shakti is a fleet tanker of the Indian Navy and SCI Saraswati is a multi-purpose support vessel (meant to supply offshore installations and serve research purposes) of the Shipping Corporation of India. Notably, both these vessels are capable of having helicopters on-board, thereby acting as a force multiplier and offering airborne assistance to their respective primary missions.
Recovering the adrift module, lifting it and securing it on the deck of a ship is no easy feat, as the crew module weighs in excess of 4.5 tonnes and this lifting task necessitates heavy-duty shipborne cranes. That’s why the Indian Navy and the Shipping Corporation of India have deployed two adequately large vessels for this unique task at sea. The prevailing weather conditions in the Bay of Bengal, make this task even more challenging.
Despite the challenges posed by the elements, the crew module was lifted onto the deck of the 35,000-tonne tanker INS Shakti and secured. The Indian Navy and ISRO had shared pictures of the crew module being secured on the deck of INS Shakti and the rescue team posted with the same.
ISRO officials said that the three components in this test – Test Vehicle rocket, Crew Escape System and Crew Module had performed perfectly in their maiden attempt. However, the ISRO Chief added that more data from this mission would be available, once the crew module is recovered and handed over to ISRO at the Chennai Port. The mission was also closely monitored by aerial assets including drones with superior imaging capabilities. Every phase of the gradual descent and recovery of the crew module was captured by sophisticated imaging systems and relayed live to ISRO.