Hyderabad startup test-fires cryogenic rocket engine

The technology that has so far been mastered by only a handful of space agencies of the US, Russia, China, Europe and Japan, has now been demonstrated by homegrown space-tech startup, Skyroot Aerospace.

The Hyderabad-based company said it has tested ‘Dhawan-1’, which is touted to be the country’s first privately developed fully cryogenic rocket engine running on two rocket propellants -- liquid natural gas and liquid oxygen. The engine was test fired for about 20 seconds as part of the demonstration.

A team of around 20 rocket engineers worked on this project for nearly two years.

Now, after successfully demonstrating the technology, the startup will work on scaling it up to build a bigger engine that will be flying to space in its Vikram-2 launch vehicle in 2023.

“Traditionally liquid Hydrogen has been used, but now space agencies as well as space companies are working on LNG because it is not only a greener fuel but also more cost effective as compared to liquid Hydrogen. Even ISRO is working on it,” Pawan Kumar Chandana, co-founder & CEO, Skyroot Aerospace, explained.

Skyroot has named its cryogenic engine ‘Dhawan-1’ after former ISRO chairman Satish Dhawan, who played a key role in the development of the Indian space programme.

Cryogenic engines are rocket propulsion systems that use propellants at cryogenic temperatures, which is less than -150° Celsius. This test is crucial because it is the first time a private space tech player has used LNG, which is a greener fuel.

The test was carried out at the Nagpur test facility of Solar Industries India Ltd, which is one of Skyroot’s investors. Elaborating on the test firing of the engine, V Gnanagandhi, who heads the cryogenic propulsion team at Skyroot, said, “The complex engine start and shut-off transients were perfectly smooth, combustion was very stable, and pressure was rock steady. This is a phenomenal achievement by our team and we’ve mastered handling two cryogenic fuels.” Naga Bharath Daka, co-founder & COO at Skyroot Aerospace said that with this milestone, the company has successfully demonstrated all the three propulsion technologies – solid, liquid and cryogenic -- in its Vikram series of space launch vehicles in the first attempt itself.

“This is a completely ‘Made-in-India' cryogenic engine developed using 3D printing with a superalloy, reducing manufacturing time by more than 95%,” said Pawan Kumar Chandana, co-founder & CEO, Skyroot Aerospace.

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