Breathe easy

The Indian Space agency is on a health mission to fight against the country's pandemic crisis.


Image credits: medium.com (The Geospatial)

Ram Rakshith V

Bengaluru: Some of the best brains in the country are working round the clock at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Pan-India lockdowns and the restrictions owing to the pandemic have not disrupted the work of the Union Government-run space agency. While adjusting to the work-from-home culture, the space experts of the country have simultaneously been contributing tirelessly to the country’s fight against the pandemic by developing ventilators and oxygen concentrators.

According to Dr. S. Somanath, Director, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Trivandrum, “All the ventilators have been developed and tested keeping the quality and safety standards as laid out by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The electronics, software, controls, and circuits are all developed in-house by our scientists. We will give these ventilators to the industries concerned and start-ups free of cost for mass manufacturing soon.”

Under the name, ‘Prana’, the three types of ventilators are uniquely designed and patented with accurate sensor displays and controls.

The first ventilator is similar to an artificial manual breathing unit. This breathing unit is a type of bag valve mask that provides positive pressure and volume ventilation to a patient suffering from breathing difficulty. A proper actuation system and a distinctive design is what makes the ventilator more efficient compared to others.

The second ventilator is a high-end one with pneumatic regulation (compressed air technology). The cost of this ventilator is said to be around Rs 1 lakh which is one-third the cost of a regular ventilator manufactured from other industries.

The third ventilator is unique as it operates without the use of any power or a motor. Using compressed air technology, the inhalation-exhalation process in this ventilator is automatically facilitated..

“Our scientists studied human physiology and breathing processes before manufacturing the medical devices. Though this field of study doesn’t come under our purview, collaborative and inspiring work culture has enabled our young scientific minds to break out of their comfort zone of their expertise to experiment in medical science.” Dr. Somanath added.

One of the three types of ventilators uniquely designed under the name, 'Prana'. Credit: Wion

The portable oxygen concentrator developed by a team of scientists at ISRO is named ‘Shwaas’. The technology used in manufacturing was taken from the ‘Gaganyaan,’ project (India’s first human spaceflight programme) in which carbon dioxide removal systems were developed.

For making this concentrator, they focused on an engineering principle that absorbed nitrogen from the air using molecular absorption. Through this concentrator, 95 percent of pure oxygen will be produced and will function continuously for a year. Providing 10 litres of oxygen per minute, it can cater to two patients or one critical patient. This concentrator is expected to cost around Rs 50,000.

The national space agency has been providing liquid oxygen to Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu from its manufacturing units since last year. The ISRO Propulsion Complex(IRPC) in Mahendragiri, which produces cryogenic fuels, is mainly helping Tamil Nadu and Kerala by fulfilling their liquid oxygen requirements. The liquid oxygen (Lox) is mainly used as an oxidiser for cryogenic engines of high-powered rockets. The IRPC has supplied over 150 tonnes of Lox to both the state governments and the production capacity of it stands at 11 tonnes a day.

ISRO is also producing location-based solutions to various state governments using Geo-spatial tools. It has developed and customised a national-level pandemic tracker called Bhuvan-COVID-19 to update and brief people on the current situation regularly. This tool is helping Bihar in mapping the epi-centres of the infections by depicting hotspots and containment zones. To draw strategies at the local level, high-resolution satellite images are helping the authorities to manage household-level information such as the number of home-isolation patients in each locality. The Bhuvan-COVID-19 app helps the people of Hyderabad in locating various mobile vegetable markets. Vegetables are also being served at people’s doorstep with the help of this app in more than 150 wards in Hyderabad.

Though the second wave of the pandemic has further delayed the timeline of ISRO’s much-awaited space missions such as Gaganyaan, Chandrayan-3, and Shukhrayan-1, ISRO, with its smart inventions and tools, has been providing cutting-edge technology-based service to people across the country since the outbreak of the pandemic. ISRO’s scientists are supporting livelihood amidst the current catastrophe.

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