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India Achieves Space Milestone with Launch of Agnibaan, Powered by Patented 3D-Printed Engine

New Delhi: India marked a significant milestone in its space ecosystem with the successful launch of Agnibaan, an innovative two-stage orbital launch vehicle. Powered by the country’s first patented single-piece 3D-printed semi-cryogenic engines, the launch vehicle was developed and incubated at IIT Madras, and it promises to revolutionize India’s role in the global space sector.

The state-of-the-art launch vehicle not only paves the way for more frequent missions for India but also positions the country as a burgeoning commercial hub in the space industry. The groundbreaking Agnibaan has been developed by Agnikul, a space-tech startup incubated at the Incubation Cell, IIT Madras, which is a Technology Business Incubator (TBI) supported by the Department of Science and Technology (DST). Agnikul was showcased during the DST’s Startup Utsav in August 2022.

Agnikul operates out of the National Centre for Combustion Research and Development (NCCRD) at IIT Madras, the world’s largest combustion research center. Supported by the DST, NCCRD specializes in automotive, thermal power, aerospace propulsion, fire research, and microgravity combustion. It collaborates closely with industrial and R&D organizations, providing a fertile training ground for Agnikul to master the intricacies of rocket building.

The startup’s inaugural mission, Agnibaan SOrTeD (Agnibaan Sub-Orbital Technology Demonstrator), featured a single-stage vehicle propelled by a semi-cryogenic pressure-fed engine, similar to the one used in Agnibaan. The mission launched from India’s first private launchpad at SDSC SHAR.

Agnikul’s innovative technologies enhance the reliability of space engines and expedite their manufacturing, facilitating more efficient space missions. The company’s additive manufacturing facility at IIT Madras Research Park, known as the Agnikul Rocket Factory – 01, inaugurated in 2022, has been pivotal in this achievement. The factory specializes in producing high-grade aerospace materials, ensuring more reliable and quicker-to-manufacture engines compared to traditional methods.

The successful launch of Agnibaan also highlights the Government’s initiative to open up the space market for private players, providing opportunities for companies like Agnikul to thrive. This endeavor was further supported by Pravartak Technologies, another Technology Innovation Hub (TIH) funded by DST, partnering with Agnikul to develop and commercialize space and deep-space technologies.

Agnikul’s achievements include establishing India’s first private launchpad and Mission Control Centre at the Sriharikota range, entirely designed and executed in-house. The company’s autopilot software ensures the launch vehicle remains on its mission path, a critical feature for mission success.

Notably, Agnibaan is the first Indian launch vehicle to feed propellants through a powerful and compact electric drive. The in-house developed high-speed motor controller delivers high power at high frequency, with noise mitigation through proper shielding and earthing.

Agnikul’s suite of technologies, including the world’s first single-piece 3D-printed engine, ensures consistent launch costs across payload masses ranging from 30 kg to 300 kg. The launch of Agnibaan SOrTeD achieved several world-firsts: the flight of a single-piece patented rocket engine, India’s first semi-cryogenic engine flight, and the first flight with Ethernet-based avionics architecture, marking the first controlled ascent flight from India.

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