Explained: How Gaganyaan astronauts will benefit from simulator training

ISRO’s Gaganyaan mission marks India’s inaugural manned space venture with comprehensive preparations being conducted across different ISRO facilities. 

Gaganyaan mission aims at sending four astronauts into space, reaching an altitude of 400 kilometres above Earth for a three-day duration. Subsequently, they will return with a planned water landing off India’s coast. 

Yesterday, Prime Minister Modi conferred ‘astronaut wings’ upon the four men selected for the Gaganyaan mission, slated for launch in 2024-2025. The individuals chosen are Group Captain Prashanth Nair, Group Captain Ajit Krishnan, Group Captain Angad Pratap and Wing Commander Shubhanshu Shukla—all pilots of the Indian Air Force (IAF). The four astronauts underwent preparatory training at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in Russia—the very facility where India’s first space traveller, Rakesh Sharma, prepared for his 1984 space voyage. 

Located in Star City, approximately 30 kilometres north of Moscow, the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre (GCTC) is named after Yuri Gagarin, the first human to journey into space. The centre is equipped with state-of-the-art training technology, including comprehensive simulators, and provides extensive survival training for a variety of potential landing environments, such as mountains, forests, marshes, deserts, the Arctic and maritime scenarios. 

After finishing 13 months of intensive training at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre and multiple stages of theoretical and physical preparations in India, the astronauts are now ready to proceed with their training in the United States. Earlier, ISRO Chairman S Somanath disclosed to the press that the next phase of training is scheduled to take place at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) Johnson Space Center, in Texas, soon. 

Training with simulators will be one of the most significant aspect of the training. “ISRO has sourced its simulators from both international and local vendors to support its training programmes. The Dynamic Training Simulator (DTS) was acquired from Thales Alenia Space, France, whereas the Independent Training Simulator (ITS) came from L&T Technology Services in India. Additionally, Indian firms were responsible for developing the Virtual Reality Training Simulator (VRTS) and the Static Mock-up Simulator (SMS),” explained space expert Girish Linganna. 

Dwelling further on simulator training, Linganna says that the Dynamic Training Simulator (DTS) is a system designed to simulate the physical sensations and experiences that astronauts will encounter during a space mission. “DTS reproduces the various motions, sounds and forces—such as jerk (sudden movement), vibrations, acceleration, changes in speed and direction and shocks—which occur during critical phases of spaceflight. These phases include stage separation, parachute deployment, touchdown (landing) and emergency scenarios, such as the activation of the Crew Escape System. The purpose of DTS is to prepare astronauts for the actual conditions they will face in space, enhancing their readiness and safety for the mission,” pointed out Linganna. 

Then there is the Integrated Training Simulator (ITS) which is a tabletop simulator designed to acquaint astronauts with the crew control interface, covering both electrical and mechanical aspects. It mimics the Crew Module’s user interface, including display systems, pages, alerts and control buttons. ITS facilitates procedural training across various crew activities and is composed of four key components such as the simulation environment and hardware interface, system simulation system, mission control console, and trainer console. This setup aims to provide comprehensive training on operating spacecraft controls and responding to mission scenarios. 

Explaining about the Virtual Reality Training Simulator (VRTS) Linganna says that it is a VR-based system designed for astronaut training in the Gaganyaan mission. It utilizes VR headsets and hand controllers, enabling astronauts to become familiar with the Crew Module’s interiors, including front-end electronics, hardware display monitors and the placement of various components. “Through VRTS, astronauts can interact virtually with switches and control panels, as well as read real-time data from displays, providing an immersive experience that closely replicates the actual environment of the Crew Module,” remarked Linganna. 

In addition to these there is the Static Mock-up Simulator (SMS), which has been designed by ISRO to closely replicate the environment of the Crew Module, offering astronauts a realistic experience of the space they will operate in. 

“This simulator ensures that astronauts become familiar with the layout, including the positioning and operations of control buttons and display systems. It mirrors the exact dimensions and space available for crew activities, matching the actual Crew Module. Every component, such as avionics, the Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) and the Cabin Pressure Control System (CPCS), is precisely placed to match their locations in the actual flight Crew Module, providing a true-to-life ground experience for the crew,” added Linganna.