Aerospace startup Skyroot Aerospace has successfully test fired an upper-stage rocket engine, becoming the first Indian private company to demonstrate the capability to build a homegrown rocket engine.
The 3-D printed rocket engine – Raman, named after Nobel laureate CV Raman – has fewer moving parts and weighs less than half of conventional rocket engines with a similar capacity.
The Hyderabad-headquartered firm, backed by CureFit founders Mukesh Bansal and Ankit Nagori, and Solar Industries, claimed that the engine was capable of multiple restarts, enabling the launch vehicle to insert various satellites into multiple orbits in a single mission. It will conduct more tests of the Raman engine over the next six months.
Founded by Pawan Kumar Chandana and Naga Bharath Daka, both former scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), Skyroot plans to build a family of rockets. The first rocket, which can hurl satellites of 250-700 kgs into a lower earth orbit, is expected to be launched by end-2021.
“We demonstrated India’s first 100% 3D-printed bi-propellant liquid rocket engine injector. Compared to traditional manufacturing, this reduced the overall mass by 50%, reduced the total number of components and lead time by 80%,” Chandana said.
The company has designed in-house software for launch vehicle guidance, navigation, and control functions, and is testing onboard its avionics modules.
Skyroot had so far raised 31.5 crore from investors to develop a family of rockets named after Vikram Sarabhai, the founder of India’s space programme, with the capability to launch 250-700 kg satellites into low-earth orbit. The space startup is now in talks to raise 90 crore by mid-2021.
Over the years, India has emerged a global hub to launch small satellites using the polar satellite launch vehicles (Pslv).
As the country opens its space sector to private players, startups such as Skyroot, Agnikul and Bellatrix are building small launchers, with 3-D printed engines, hoping to bring down the cost of launching satellites and capturing a bigger pie of the global small satellite launch market.
Research firm Frost & Sullivan expects more than 10,000 small satellites to be launched globally in the next decade.
V Gnanagandhi, another former Isro scientist and a senior vice president at Skyroot, who is leading its liquid-propulsion team, said: “This test has qualified a unique monolithic design of injector with complex internal channels and demonstrated high performance for hypergolic rocket propellants.”