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Agnikul successfully launches 3D-printed semi-cryogenic rocket 'Agnibaan'; what this milestone means for India

Chennai-based space start-up Agnikul Cosmos successfully conducted a sub-orbital test flight of its home-built 3D-printed semi-cryogenic rocket, Agnibaan, from its own launch pad at Sriharikota on Thursday.

Agnikul successfully launches 3D-printed semi-cryogenic rocket 'Agnibaan'; what this milestone means for India snt
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First Published May 30, 2024, 11:26 AM IST

Chennai-based space start-up Agnikul Cosmos successfully conducted a sub-orbital test flight of its home-built 3D-printed semi-cryogenic rocket, Agnibaan, from its own launch pad at Sriharikota on Thursday. This achievement makes Agnikul Cosmos the second private entity in India to reach this milestone.

Following four unsuccessful attempts, the test flight was executed without live-streaming and in the presence of only a few dignitaries at the Sriharikota launch pad, located within ISRO's Satish Dhawan Space Centre.

"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 realised through additive manufacturing," the ISRO said in a post on X.

Thursday’s mission achieved three significant milestones: demonstrating India’s first launch from a private launchpad (Agnikul Launch Pad in Sriharikota, named Dhanush), showcasing the country’s first semi-cryogenic engine-powered rocket launch, and utilizing the first single-piece 3D-printed engine designed and built domestically to power a launch vehicle.

The primary objective of the Agnibaan "SubOrbital Technological Demonstrator" (SOrTeD) mission, which is also Agnikul's first flight, was to serve as a test flight. This mission aimed to demonstrate in-house and homegrown technologies, gather crucial flight data, and ensure the optimal functioning of systems for Agnibaan.

Unlike traditional sounding rockets that launch from guide rails, SOrTeD lifted off vertically and followed a predetermined trajectory while performing a precisely orchestrated set of manoeuvres during flight.

"Elated at the successful launch of Agnibaan SOrTeD by @AgnikulCosmos ! A historic moment for India's space sector. Powered by the world's first single piece 3D printed semi-cryogenic engine, this achievement showcases the brilliance of our young innovators," Pawan Goenka, Chairman, Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), said on X.

This was Agnikul's fifth attempt to launch the Agnibaan Sub-Orbital Technology Demonstrator (SOrTeD) since March 22.

"This is a huge boost and a proud moment for India’s thriving private space industry and just a glimpse into what the future holds for us, our hearty congratulations to the entire team behind this and best wishes for their future efforts. This significant launch, coupled with the recently introduced guidelines for the implementation of the Indian Space Policy 2023 by IN-SPACe and the new FDI regulations, will undoubtedly bolster global confidence in India's private space industry and its growing capabilities," Lt Gen A K Bhatt (retd) Director General, Indian Space Association (ISpA) said.

Agnibaan is a customizable, two-stage launch vehicle capable of carrying a payload of up to 300 kg into an orbit of about 700 km, according to Agnikul Cosmos. The rocket employs a semi-cryogenic engine utilizing a mix of liquid and gas propellants, a technology yet to be demonstrated by the ISRO in any of its rockets.

The SOrTeD mission represents a single-stage launch vehicle demonstration powered by the Agnilet engine, a sub-cooled liquid oxygen-based propulsion system developed indigenously. Agnikul has equipped the vehicle with the first-ever Ethernet-based avionics architecture and fully in-house developed autopilot software from India.

The vehicle is powered by sub-cooled Liquid Oxygen (LOX) and Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF) and features four carbon composite fins for passive control. The Agnilet engine is notable for being the world's first single-piece 3D-printed semi-cryogenic rocket engine.

The mission lasted for two minutes from launch to splashdown. Following lift-off, the vehicle performed a pitch-over manoeuvres approximately four seconds into flight. This maneuver involves a controlled rotation to change its orientation from vertical to a predetermined angle relative to the ground or its flight path.

Subsequently, at just over 39 seconds, the vehicle executed a wind-biasing manoeuvres to compensate for the effects of wind on its trajectory during ascent. At 1 minute and 29 seconds, the launch vehicle reached its apogee, the farthest point from the launch site, before splashing down just over two minutes into the flight, marking the mission's completion.

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