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Indian Space startup AGNIKUL COSMOS becomes first company to testfire 3D printed rocket engine

An Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chandrayaan 2 Module on GSLV MK III rocket. (ISRO photo/Released)
February 12, 2021

In the 21st century when space has opened new frontiers for private players allowing new visionary start-ups to step in to show their potential in this booming market, companies from India are working to garner attention after India opened the doors for domestic private firms to participate in this futuristic sector.

In the midst of these crucial developments, an Indian start-up has achieved the first successful test-firing of a 3D printed rocket engine. This is the first time a complete single piece of engine was printed and was successfully testfired without having any additional equipment installed in it.

“This entire engine, Agnilet, is just one piece of hardware from start to finish and has zero assembled parts,” said co-founder and CEO Srinath Ravichandran.

Agnikul Cosmos tested a semi-cryogenic engine that is used on the upper stage of the rocket. It works by channeling cooled liquid oxygen with high combustible and oxidizer-rich fuel into creating the intended impulse to push the rocket in orbit during the booster separation stage of the rocket. This Agnilet engine will be part company’s underdevelopment Low Earth Orbit carrier rocket called “Agnibaan.”

Agnikul also intends to build a cost-effective mini expendable rocket that can carry 100kg payload to 700 km above in LEO successfully.

Fabricating a single piece of complex machinery such as an engine through 3D printing is a major task because every detail must be precise in the digital design through heavier calculations and minutes of detailing for the rocket to work successfully. An Indian space startup based out of Chennai managed to pull off this mammoth task.

A systemic assembled rocket engine’s mechanism is proportionally made of more than 100 different parts and equipment, which are needed to be built individually. It includes instruments like installed injectors in heart of the engine, which is used to inject fuel into the engine’s combustion chamber with oxidizers like liquid oxygen, further cooling channels and a coolant control mechanism that ensure the engine doesn’t overheat.

In Agnilet, all three major instruments were fabricated within the entire system. all three of these modules were part of a single piece of hardware that was completely fabricated in 3D printing. There is no complex and individual assembly and the turnaround time, entire setup and fabrication was executed in less than four days.

The rocket engine is capable of carrying up to 100 kilos to low earth orbit (LEO), which is around 700 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, which is only a fraction of what the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) is capable of.

Agnikul was the first Indian space startup to enter into a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with the Department of Space (DoS) of India under the newly established Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) which will oversee the private start-up activities in space technology development and services, allowing them to thrive under one umbrella.

The global space industry is expected to create more than $1.1 trillion by 2040, according to Morgan Stanley, which is more than triple its current value of $350 billion. Meanwhile, space engine technology like 3D printed rocket engines is expected to be in high demand as private players seek to make a stand in contributing to the space industry’s growth.

Besides Agnikul, another Indian start-up called “Skyroot Aerospace” also signed an NDA with the Department of Space on February 2, in addition to unveiling its 3D printed cryogenic rocket engine dubbed Dhawan-I. Dhawan-I will be used to power the Vikram-I and Vikram-II rocket, which the company is also building from scratch.