India's Agnikul launches 3D-printed rocket in sub-orbital test after initial delays | TechCrunch

India's Agnikul launches 3D-printed rocket in sub-orbital test after initial delays | TechCrunch

After two years of preparation and four delays in the past several months due to technical glitches, the Indian space launch Agunkal The space agency Indian Space Research Organization said on Thursday that it has successfully launched its first sub-orbital test vehicle, powered by its unique 3D printed rocket engines.

Called Agnibaan SOrTeD (Sub-orbital Technology Demonstrator), the single-stage launch vehicle took off from the startup's mobile launch pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Center on Sriharikota island in southern India on Thursday morning local time. Data from the test flight will contribute to the development of the startup's Agniban commercial orbital launch vehicle.

Agincol initially conducted full countdown exercises for the launch in March and postponed the lift-off due to some minor observations. The startup also prepared for launch twice in April and once earlier this week, each time shutting down just before liftoff due to technical problems encountered during last-minute inspections. Today, Aginkul finally accomplished its long-awaited mission as the rocket took off from the spindle-shaped island off Andhra Pradesh's east coast and landed in the Bay of Bengal.

The 6.2-meter-tall vehicle is made of carbon composite, giving it a lift-off mass of 1,268 lbs. At its heart are 3D-printed semi-cryogenic engines developed in-house by Agincol, each delivering 6.2 kN of thrust.

Aguncool co-founder and CEO Srinath Ravichandran told TechCrunch in an interview before the launch that it takes 72 to 75 hours to 3D print a single rocket engine in crude form. The startup can produce two fully finished engines in a week, which involves taking them from a 3D printer, de-powdering them, and putting them through a heat treatment. This is in contrast to the traditional process, which takes 10 to 12 weeks to build a rocket engine of the same size.

“We stand out because of the single-piece component where there is no human intervention in the process. What comes out of the printer is full length, without any welding or hardening or anything like that,” he said on the call. said

Elaborating on the single-piece part that makes Aguncool stand out from the competition, Ravichandran said the core engine, which is “where the fuel goes in and out and everything in between, and the igniter, ” is 3D printed in one shot. A piece of hardware. The engine is then connected to plumbing apparatus, such as fuel pipes, pressure and temperature sensors, and valves.

Although Agnikul claims its 3D printed engine is a world first, including companies A place of relativity And Rocket Lab Long ago adopted 3D printing for their rockets. However, Ravichandran claimed that not all of these companies have fully embraced 3D printing.

“They're not yet offering what people should be offering, what we're offering, which is very flexible and configurable ways to get into space,” he asserted. “If you have a 1- or 1.5-ton vehicle, which Relativity or one of these other companies have, it's about getting people to ride share, getting them to locate, one of the people's Waiting to come along, and again, the same set of problems of not crashing in the last mile.”

Agnecol's Agniban SOrTeD launch speed Image credits: Agunkal
Image credit: Agunkal

Agincol chose Inconel as the material for the engine design. It remains strong at high temperatures and is 3D printable. However, since composites are a very poor conductor of heat, the biggest challenge at the start was removing the heat.

“There are many iterations involved in designing the cooling channels to get the heat out,” said Ravichandran.

Another challenge for Agnicol was to ensure that the vehicle remained completely risk-free while being a mobile system. The startup decided not to use solid fuel systems, which are highly explosive, and instead built the vehicle entirely on a liquid propulsion system. He also preferred to avoid using a model that would also require a remote connection to the explosives.

“Any system that requires jettisoning, such as some phase separation from a pad or separation into two phases, etc., these are all pneumatic systems,” Ravichandran said.

The co-founder said Agincol designed the vehicle to be modifiable “even at the last minute,” offering a tailor-made solution for organizations looking to launch any specific small satellite.

Founded in late 2017, Agincol initially experimented with 3D printed components, such as igniters, cooling channels, and fuel injection points. However, he gradually pushed the boundaries and started joining different elements to avoid welding and hardening, away from traditional methods.

“There is no shortcut to this kind of engineering. You just have to go through the process and keep iterating,” asserts Ravichandran.

The startup went through at least 70 or 80 iterations, specifically for the fuel injector, and finally designed an “injector plate” combining them all into one component, he said. Likewise, the startup went through at least 20 iterations of its cooling chambers with different geometries.

The executive said it took the startup about six to nine months to build its first set of engines from scratch and then about a year to actually fly the engines. Agunkal Raised $26.7 million. In funding late last year to get it to this point.

Retired scientists from the Indian Space Research Organization and researchers from IIT Madras are helping Aginkul develop vehicles for commercial launches. Ravichandran said the startup is already in talks with more than 40 potential customers, and letters of intent have been signed with some. However, Agniban's orbital launch will take at least six months.

India's space sector has attracted global attention for some time now. became a South Asian nation last year. First landed his spacecraft on the lunar south pole. And introduced him Space policy to promote private participation. The country, home to about 190 space-tech startups, also recently updated its policy. Increase foreign direct investment limits. in the space sector. Now, Indian space startups are paving the way to take the country's space sector to new heights by demonstrating their technologies and readying them to earn revenue from customers around the world.

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