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Chennai Start-Up Makes Rocket History on 5th Attempt, PM Modi Praises

The rocket known as Agnibaan SOrTeD (Suborbital Tech Demonstrator), which is propelled by an engine that the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is still working to perfect, was tested today by Agnikul Cosmos, a commercial space start-up in India.

According to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the Chennai-based startup’s rocket launch at 7:15 a.m. was successful. According to ISRO Chairman Mr. S. Somanath, the launch was deemed “successful”.

“Congratulations @AgnikulCosmos for the successful launch of the Agnibaan SoRTed-01 mission from their launch pad. A major milestone, as the first-ever controlled flight of a semi-cryogenic liquid engine realized through additive manufacturing,” ISRO posted on X.

Satya R Chakravarty, a professor from IIT Madras and a mentor for Agnikul, too, said the launch from Sriharikota was successful.

“Humbled to announce the successful completion of our first flight – Mission 01 of Agnibaan SOrTeD – from our own and India’s first & only private Launchpad within SDSC-SHAR at Sriharikota. All the mission objectives of this controlled vertical ascent flight were met and performance was nominal. The vehicle was completely designed in-house and was powered by the world’s first single piece 3d printed engine and also happens to be India’s first flight with a semi cryo engine,” Agnikul said in a statement after the successful launch.

“Our greatest thanks to @INSPACeIND @isro @iitmadras & our incredibly committed team in helping us prove that a private player can design and fly original space tech hardware in India. #madeInIndiaForTheWorld,” the statement added.

Agnikul’s feat also earned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s praise. “A remarkable feat which will make the entire nation proud! The successful launch of Agnibaan rocket powered by world’s first single-piece 3D printed semi-cryogenic engine is a momentous occasion for India’s space sector and a testament to the remarkable ingenuity of our Yuva Shakti. My best wishes to the @AgnikulCosmos team for their future endeavours,” he posted on X.

This was the fifth attempt to launch the rocket after four launch plans were aborted due to technical glitches. Rocketry is not for the faint-hearted, and the young team of engineers from the Chennai-based start-up has showed remarkable patience and bounced back every time a glitch foiled their plans.

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Incubated at IIT-Madras, this was the first test flight for the start-up, founded in 2017 by two young aerospace engineers with a dream to create “a place where people learn to use fire”.

The rocket, which weighs 575 kg and is 6.2-metre long, lifted off from Sriharikota plunging into the Bay of Bengal.

The Agnibaan SOrTeD is powered by a semi-cryogenic engine that uses commercially available aviation turbine fuel, essentially kerosene and medical grade liquid oxygen, said Moin SPM, co-founder of Agnikul Cosmos Private Limited.

ISRO has never flown a semi-cryogenic engine. It is developing a 2000 kN thrust semi-cryogenic engine and the first ignition trial was conducted successfully on May 2. So, the Chennai-based start-up has achieved what no other Indian private firm did.

Agnikul has demonstrated the first semi-cryogenic and 3D printed engine by the Indian private sector, says Dr Pawan Goenka, a mechanical engineer and chairperson of the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) under the Centre’s Department of Space. “This bold innovation could be a significant differentiator when commercial launches start by India’s start-ups.”

Srinath Ravichandran, a co-founder of the space start-up, said, “This launch is significant since it is India’s first launch from a private launchpad and the rocket has the world’s first single piece 3D printed engine designed and built indigenously.”

ISRO tested its first-ever 3D printed engine in ground tests on May 9.

Ahead of the launch, the start-up said in a statement, “Agnibaan SOrTeD (Suborbital Tech Demonstrator) is a single-stage launch vehicle driven by Agnikul’s patented Agnilet engine – an entirely 3D-printed, single-piece, 6 kN semi-cryogenic engine. Agnibaan SOrTeD will lift off vertically and follow a predetermined trajectory. The trajectory, manoeuvres and various flight events that will occur during the mission have been configured to validate tech integral to the success of our upcoming orbital flights. We are excited to be attempting this flight from our own launch pad [named Dhanush] at Sriharikota.”

Explaining how Agnibaan’s special 3D printed engine can prove to be a game-changer, Mr Moin told NDTV that it is a single-piece equipment and the quality testing time for such engines is highly reduced by using 3D printing technology.

The engine is powered by commercially available aviation turbine fuel and liquid oxygen. This makes for a cheap and easily available non-corrosive fuel which can be sourced easily, he said, adding that this also makes it easy to launch rockets from multiple locations with minimum facilities.

In another first, Agnikul has got the go-ahead to build a special launchpad near the sea on the Sriharikota island with its own dedicated control room. This is part of ISRO opening up its facilities for the ease of doing business for Indian space companies.

“This will be the first controlled flight of a rocket by a private company, and all precautions are being taken to make sure nothing goes amiss. If things go awry, then the self-destruct mechanism provided by ISRO can be activated by the Range Safety Officer,” Mr Moin said ahead of the launch.

Agnikul follows up on the first launch by an Indian space company, Skyroot Aerospace Private Limited, which in 2022 flew a solid fuelled sounding rocket from Sriharikota. Once Agnibaan rockets become operational, Agnikul hopes to undertake launch on demand and launch 30 to 300 kg satellites into space.

“We hope to build dedicated, fully customisable and transportable launch vehicles for small satellites to Low Earth Orbits (LEO). The launch vehicle Agnibaan is powered by a single-piece 3D-printed engine that can be made in 72 hours without any human intervention. It is compatible with the mobile launch pad called ‘Dhanush’ which makes the launch location agnostic and, most importantly, it could be configured to fly with 4/5/6/7 [engines] which makes the launch cost the same across the spectrum of mass – 30 kg – 300 kg,” the company has said.

Agnikul has already attracted an investment of 40 million dollars and has a team of 250 members. “The average age of employees at Agnikul is 23 years and all are fired up to innovate,” says Mr Moin, underscoring that India can become a hub for small satellite launches as more and more global companies are opting for constellations of satellites placed in low earth orbits.

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Source: NDTV

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