Cosmonaut prepare for lift-off in KRET simulators
The country’s main “Space University”, the Cosmonaut Training Center, is marking its 55th anniversary. It’s here, in Zvezdny gorodok (Star City), where future space explorers are training to live in space. A special place in the cosmonaut training program is given to simulators which have been developed by KRET aviation equipment R&D. R&D specialists have developed dozens of simulators for all manned spacecraft from the “Vostok” (East) to the “Soyuz TMA”.
THE FIRST SPACE SIMULATOR
On January 11, 1960, in Star City near Moscow, the Cosmonaut Training Center was founded. The country was given a unique and extremely complex task that no one else in the world had accomplished – preparing one person for mankind’s first trip out into the cosmos.
After the first cosmonaut students mastered the theoretical principles of flight and rocketry, it was necessary to begin training. For example, future space pilots began preparations for solo space flight on Earth, on aircraft simulators. This was when even the spacecraft in which the cosmonaut intended to fly was still being created.
Sergei Korolev found a solution to this problem, by making a simulator based on an existing modeling stand. The task of bringing the model to life with an artificial external environment, and moreover, doing this with the available technology at the time, was assigned to specialists of laboratory No. 47 LII. Gromov, where, in fact, real equipment was developed for the Vostok cabin. Today it is a scientific research institute (R&D) for aviation equipment (NIIAO) and a member of KRET.
Thus, already in 1960, the first simulator for training cosmonauts was created by NIIAO.
The core of the program and teaching methods in a space simulator was built on the experience of pilot training – focusing on penalties for actions from start to landing, as in normal flight flow, and in all possible “special cases” when the course of the flight is disrupted. Surely only those cosmonauts prepared for any and all “surprises” the simulator might throw at them could safely complete the flight.
The very first manual for the cosmonaut training simulator comprised just two pages of typewritten text. Today it is complex and voluminous. But despite this fact, the first cosmonauts’ training was much more severe than today.
For example, the first group was rotated with an overload of 12 G, creating 12 times one’s body weight. Even some of the tests were run with an overload to 20. The first group of six cosmonauts, of course, including Yuri Gagarin, on January 17-18, 1961, successfully passed this rigorous training examination for the first flight into space.
DRESS REHEARSAL FOR FLIGHT
And now, in Star City, every day exams are given, training is conducted, and tests are performed. Simulators have become so much more these days than what they used to be. NIIAO is the parent company for their creation. In all, specialists at the Institute have developed more than 20 simulators for all manned spacecraft from the Vostok to the Buran and the Soyuz.
In Star City, modern simulators of NIIAO development operate with the latest computer systems and excellent visualization capabilities.
HOW TO TRAIN A COSMONAUT
These complex simulators developed by KRET occupy a special place in the program for training the crew of the Soyuz-TMA. In fact, they are the only means of simulating space flight on Earth.
Each TDK-7ST simulator is a complex semi-realistic simulation system built using full-size mock-ups of the crew compartments of the Soyuz manned spacecraft.
On the TDK-7ST simulators developed by KRET, cosmonauts pass their training exams. What each cosmonaut should show are skills for operating the Soyuz TMA in all areas of flight, including docking and undocking from the ISS, the descent from orbit and landing.
Pressure chambers, centrifuges, and buoyancy labs at the Cosmonaut Training Center help teach cosmonauts how to breathe during overload, how to move in weightlessness, eating and drinking in zero gravity, and finding solutions to emergency situations.
As the cosmonauts say themselves, one of the major tests in preparation for the flight has always been the pressure chamber, which changes at different altitudes, and the pressure difference creates a huge overload. Sensors monitor indicators, including: pressure, heart rate, and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the breath. It’s like climbing a huge mountain. And in this “space” height, cosmonauts must stay awake enough to adequately answer questions, solve problems, and even tell jokes.
Often after the hyperbaric chamber, many potential cosmonauts are written off, and the long queue for space travel is greatly reduced. Before the first spacewalk, Alexei Leonov took several turns in the chamber daily. Now the astronauts are tested in the pressure chamber once a year.
CAROUSEL OF HEROES
NIIAO proudly recognized its simulator based on the TsF-18 centrifuge, which started operation in 1980. Until now training in a centrifuge is one of the main means of cosmonaut training.
The scale of the TsF-18, the world’s only centrifuge with such parameters, is really striking: the radius of rotation is 18 meters, the total mass of the rotating parts is 305 tons, and the main engine produces about 27 megawatts of power. At the same time, due to precise balancing and thanks to special oil bearings, just one man pushing with his hand can set the centrifuge in motion.
In real Soyuz program space flight, special overloads occur at the stage when the spacecraft launches into orbit, as well as when it descends from orbit. Cosmonauts bear the load on the entire body, which can occur when abnormal situations associated with fault in the shuttle’s systems. And this happens unfortunately. For example, in 1975, as reported by the Cosmonaut Training Center, after an accident during the second stage of the shuttle launch, the crew of Vasily Lazarev and Oleg Makarov had to endure twenty times overload.
The possibility of such situations in space flight makes the training of cosmonauts in centrifuges and dynamic simulators mandatory. All future cosmonauts, including tourists, are subject to mandatory centrifuge exposure before the flight.
Currently, Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka is preparing for his fifth space flight. He will hold the record for spending the most time in space – a total of more than 900 days – breaking Sergei Krikalev’s record of 800 days. His crew, Mikhail Kornienko and Scott Kelly, will be in orbit for a year.
At the beginning of 2016, the next “star crew” will be announced. Although preference is given to candidates from specialized enterprises, the selection is to remain open. So the most deserving, perfectly healthy candidates trained in Star City will lift off into space for the next decade.