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Agnibaan: The Rise of India’s Indigenous Space Capabilities

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In a significant stride towards bolstering India’s space capabilities, an innovative two-stage orbital launch vehicle named Agnibaan, powered by India’s first patented Single-Piece 3D-printed Semi-Cryogenic Engines, was successfully launched. This milestone represents a significant advancement for India’s growing space sector.

Image credits: Press Information Bureau

Agnibaan developed by a space-tech startup incubated at IIT Madras’ Incubation Cell with support from the Department of Science and Technology (DST), was previously showcased as well. The startup operates out of the National Centre for Combustion Research and Development (NCCRD) at IIT Madras, which is also backed by DST.

NCCRD stands as the world’s largest combustion research centre, focusing on automotive, thermal power, aerospace propulsion, fire research, and microgravity combustion. This facility plays a crucial role in advancing state-of-the-art combustion technologies and fostering collaborations between academia, industry, and R&D organisations.

Operating from NCCRD, Agnikul has pioneered technologies aimed at enhancing the reliability and manufacturing efficiency of space engines, thus facilitating more frequent and cost-effective space missions. The maiden mission, Agnibaan SOrTeD (Agnibaan Sub-Orbital Technology Demonstrator), propelled by a single semi-cryogenic pressure-fed engine, was launched successfully from India’s first private launchpad at SDSC SHAR.

DST’s support through NCCRD has been instrumental in Agnikul’s journey, providing crucial infrastructure and expertise for rocket development. Pravartak Technologies, another DST-funded Technology Innovation Hub (TIH) from IIT Madras, collaborated with Agnikul in commercialising space technologies, further enhancing India’s space capabilities.

Agnikul’s pioneering engine technology, characterised by its single-piece 3D-printed design using aerospace-grade materials, significantly reduces manufacturing time and enhances reliability. This breakthrough underscores India’s strides towards indigenous manufacturing of advanced space propulsion systems.

The establishment of India’s first private launchpad and Mission Control Centre at Sriharikota, funded by DST’s Technology Business Incubator (TBI) program, marks a significant milestone in the country’s space sector. This infrastructure has enabled Agnikul to conduct controlled ascent flights autonomously, supported by in-house developed autopilot software.

Agnibaan’s innovative features include a powerful electric drive for propellant feed and an Ethernet-based avionics architecture – a first in India’s space missions. These advancements ensure consistent launch costs across a spectrum of payload masses, from 30 kg to 300 kg.

The successful launch of Agnibaan SOrTeD not only achieved several technological firsts for India but also demonstrated the country’s capability in advancing space technology. With ongoing support from DST and collaborative efforts within India’s vibrant startup ecosystem, Agnikul is poised to further innovate and contribute to India’s aspirations in space exploration.

Earlier, Union Minister Dr Jitendra Singh emphasised India’s technological leadership, highlighting the pivotal roles of Bio-Economy and Space Economy in shaping the nation’s future trajectory. Against the backdrop of India’s remarkable economic growth, Dr Singh underscored these sectors as crucial drivers of India’s ongoing prosperity.

OpenGov Asia reported that the Technology Development Board (TDB), under the DST, is supporting a pioneering project aimed at advancing space-grade solar array fabrication and testing processes in India. This initiative underscores TDB’s commitment to fostering innovation and technological excellence in space engineering within the country.

The project, in collaboration with a leading player in the space engineering domain, focuses on revolutionary advancements in solar array technology, leveraging materials like carbon fibre and specialised resins. It aims to enhance performance and durability, setting new standards in efficiency with triple-junction GaAs technology.

A dedicated test facility will validate the reliability of these arrays under rigorous space conditions, marking a significant milestone in India’s quest for space indigenisation and global leadership in advanced space technologies.

India’s strides in combustion research, supported by DST initiatives, are propelling the nation towards achieving low-cost and reliable space missions, positioning India as a significant player in the global space sector.

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