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India’s future astronauts’ training centre to be on Bengaluru outskirts

India’s future astronauts training facility, plans for which have been on the drawing board since 2008-09 awaiting official clearance of the Human Spaceflight Programme (HSP), will finally be realised on a land located about eight to ten kilometres from the Kempegowda International Airport (KIA) on the outskirts of Bengaluru city, as per current plans.

The facility, likely to be named Astronaut Training and Biomedical Engineering Centre, will be developed on the land owned by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) around its guest house in Devanahalli (Bengaluru Rural) and is expected to resemble the one in Russia where cosmonauts or astronauts from around the world undergo training. The centre is likely to be spread across 40-50 acres.

However, the astronauts—Gaganauts as Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in his speech—selected for India’s first human space mission will be undergoing training either in Russia or the US given the tight schedule.

On the plans for the training centre in Devanahalli, Isro Chairman Sivan K told TOI: “Yes, but that will be for future missions, as it won’t be possible to train astronauts for the present mission at our facility given the tight schedule. So we will be training them at a foreign facility, and subsequently, for future missions, we will have our own here.”

To be built in collaboration with the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Institute of Aviation Medicine (IAM), located on Old Airport Road here, the astronauts facility will help prepare personnel for future manned missions in recovery and rescue operations, study of radiation environment and the long journey across space through water simulation.

The centre will also be equipped to train astronauts on surviving in zero gravity environments, something that most challenging according to Rakesh Sharma, the first Indian astronaut who went to space on a Soviet mission in 1984.

Aside of this, the centre will host a variety of chambers meant for thermal cycling and radiation regulation and also have centrifugals to train the astronauts on acceleration aspects when their module or vehicle is in space.

“The water simulators will be like swimming pools. Astronauts will go underneath the water and learn to live in zero gravity situations,” one source had told this reporter earlier.

A senior official at the IAM told TOI that the institute has the ability to develop the astronaut training centre without any outside help, and that when the ball is set rolling, there will be enough resources dedicated for the project.

The first task at hand for the IAM so far as the human space mission goes, is the selection of ‘Gaganauts’ for the 2022 mission, several tests for which has already been conceptualised and developed at the institute, which already has a centrifugal system used to train pilots to handle G-force.

“There is an elaborate process and we also have all the simulators needed to select astronauts. The process had began as early as 2009 and we have developed these systems by 2011-12, but the project was not cleared then. Now, at least two of the simulators are ready to be used straight away while a few more would need minimal enhancements which will not take more than two-three weeks once we get the word,” the official said.

Typically, the IAM would need anywhere between six months to a year to select the final few to go on India’s maiden human space mission, following which their training will start which is also likely to take a few months.

“Initially, it took both Russia and the US one year to select their astronauts, subsequently the US now has a process where it can pick them in six months. We’ll need more than six months, but not more than a year,” the official said.

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