India tests cheaper rocket to reduce launch vehicle cost

March 4th, 2010 - 11:49 pm ICT by IANS  

ISRO By Fakir Balaji
Bangalore, March 4 (IANS) India successfully conducted the flight test of a new rocket that will drastically reduce the cost of its launch vehicles by using oxygen in the atmosphere to propel the spacecraft, a senior space official said Thursday.

“The flight test of the advanced sounding rocket Wednesday demonstrated our capability to reduce the cost of launch vehicles by using oxygen to propel a spacecraft at high speed into space,” Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) director S. Satish told IANS here.

The new propulsion technology will put India into the elite club of a few space-faring countries that are conducting similar tests and experiments.

“Currently, only US has the technology, while India is at par with other European and Asian countries, which are striving to achieve the capability,” the director pointed out.

In the existing rockets, the Indian space agency uses fuels and oxidiser to launch satellites and other spacecraft into polar and geo-stationary orbits.

“Going forward, the air-breathing propulsion technology will enable us to use oxygen as fuel and thereby reduce the weight of the launch vehicle. The flight test of the sounding rocket is a major step towards low-cost access to space,” Satish said.

The new technology will also enable the Indian space agency to launch heavier satellites or spacecraft at lower cost.

“At present, with fuel and oxydiser, we are able to carry 1.5-2 tonne satellites using PSLV (polar satellite launch vehicle). The new technology will enable us to carry 3-4 tonne satellites at lesser cost and at higher speed,” Satish noted.

ISRO plans to conduct a full flight test in the coming months to achieve greater capability in using more oxygen to fire the rocket into higher altitude in space.

“In the test conducted yesterday (Wednesday), the rocket touched an altitude of 46km in 120 seconds (two minutes) and the entire flight duration was 240 seconds (four minutes). We will expand the envelope in the next flight,” Satish said.

The flight test of the advanced sounding rocket was conducted from ISRO’s spaceport Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh, about 80 km northeast of Chennai.

Weighing three tonnes at lift-off, the heaviest rocket carried a scramjet engine combustor module to demonstrate air-breathing propulsion technology.

“During the flight, the rocket remained for seven seconds in the desired conditions of Mach number (6+0.5) and dynamic pressure (80+35 kPa). These conditions are required for a stable ignition of active scramjet engine combustor module planned in the next advanced technology vehicle,” ISRO said in a statement earlier.

A scramjet (supersonic combustion ramjet) consists of a tube through which inlet air is compressed by the high speed of the vehicle, a combustion chamber where fuel is combusted, and a nozzle through which the exhaust jet leaves at higher speed than the inlet air.

Jet engines use a compressor to squeeze air into the engine, then spray fuel into the compressed air and ignite it to produce thrust by funnelling it through the back

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