Adding another feather to its increasingly feather laden cap, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) conducted a test on Sunday in which tested a brand new scramjet engine that has been developed in-house at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC), Sriharikota.
This is a huge milestone for the organization and marks a major step along the ability to deploy reusable launch vehicle (RLV) at hypersonic speed.
The mission, which aimed to test and demonstrate ISRO’s capabilities in a range of different fields such as ignition of air breathing engines at supersonic speed, holding the flame at supersonic speed along with several of its important, futuristic systems such as air intake mechanism and the fuel injection system, managed to achieve absolute success, reaching all of its objectives. This also happened to be the maiden short duration experimental test of the ISRO Scramjet engine with a hypersonic flight at an speed of Mach 6.
ISRO announced the achievement today, when it said that
The first experimental mission of ISRO’s Scramjet Engine towards the realization of an Air Breathing Propulsion System was successfully conducted today (August 28, 2016) from Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota.
After a countdown of 12 hours that went by without a hitch, a solid rocket booster that had been chosen for the test and that was carrying the Scramjet Engines, lifted off at 0600 hrs (6:00 am) IST. ISRO’s plan was for the rocket to burn out of booster rocket stage, ignition of second stage solid rocket, functioning of Scramjet engines for a duration of 5 seconds, and finally the burn out that occurs at the second stage.
Things went exactly as planned — as is becoming a habit with ISRO’s projects — and after a flight of around 5 minutes, the vehicle managed to land in the Bay of Bengal.
The test deployed Hydrogen as fuel and the Oxygen from the atmospheric air as the oxidizer. This is important because instead of taking it from a store on-board, the system was able to function perfectly by taking it through the Oxygen available in the air itself. Thanks to this tweak, scientists estimate that they will be able to cut the weight of the vehicle during lift-off by more than half, which is great news, considering that it will enable the rocket to carry heavier payloads into the orbit.
The solid rocket booster used for today’s test was deployed with the help of ISRO’s Advanced Technology Vehicle (ATV). The ATV is basically a two stage spin stabilized launcher with similar solid motors and is distinguished by the ability to sustain two different stages, i.e. the booster and sustainer stage. Since the rocket was able to ignite and sustain the flame at supersonic speed, it is believed that the rocket will be able to achieve the same results for longer durations as well
The main concern is igniting the air-breathing engine in the air and then sustaining the flame at supersonic speed. If we can sustain it for five seconds, then it can last for even 1000 seconds.
Speaking about the issues faced by the organization, which is rapidly making its way to stand shoulder to shoulder with the world’s best, in what was undoubtedly a very daunting project were elaborated in the official announcement,
Some of the technological challenges handled by ISRO during the development of Scramjet engine include the design and development of Hypersonic engine air intake, the supersonic combustor, development of materials withstanding very high temperatures, computational tools to simulate hypersonic flow, ensuring performance and operability of the engine across a wide range of flight speeds, proper thermal management and ground testing of the engines.
Meanwhile, this test has propelled India into a very exclusive club of just four countries that have the capability of deploying Scramjet Engines in this manner. While NASA had achieved this milestone back in 2004, ISRO had carried out ground based test in 2006. With this test though, ISRO is now capable as anyone in deploying the Scramjet engines.
Undoubtedly a proud moment for all of us as Indians!