ISRO’s Baby Steps at Cheaper Missions

Published: 08th November 2014 05:57 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th November 2014 05:57 AM   |  A+A-

VALIYAMALA ( THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: ) : Six years after the Union Cabinet gave it the formal go-ahead, a project that will give India cheaper access to space is finally picking up steam at ISRO’s Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC).

Officials at the LPSC HQ, Valiyamala, said they hoped to run the first major test in connection with the ‘semi-cryogenic’ engine project by November-end. What is special about the engine is that it uses kerosene as fuel instead of Liquid Hydrogen (LH2), the propellant used in cryogenic engines.

“This will be the first sub-system level test and we will be testing the booster pump for the oxidiser used in the engine,’’ LPSC director K Sivan said on Friday.  In both cryogenic and the semi-cryogenic engines, Liquid Oxygen is used as oxidiser, which helps the fuel to burn. In addition to being a low-cost technology, the use of highly refined kerosene (RP-1) will enable easier storage and handling.

The cold flow test facility at the LPSC unit in Mahendragiri, Tamil Nadu, where the test is to be conducted, is expected to be completed shortly, Sivan said. In fact, LPSC has had to postpone the test to November owing to the delay in its completion. An integrated test facility also is planned at Mahendragiri where the ‘hot test’ of the semi-cryo engine - in a hot test, the engine is fired - will be performed.

Employing kerosene as rocket propellant is not a new idea as spacefaring nations such as Russia and the US have been doing it for years. It was in 2008 that the Union Cabinet approved ISRO’s semi-cryogenic engine project at an estimated cost of `1,798 crore. Then, the idea was to have the engine ready by 2014.

“The semi-cryogenic engine will facilitate applications for future space missions such as the Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV), Unified Launch Vehicle (ULV) and vehicles for interplanetary missions,’’ the government had said in 2008.

 However, indications are that it may take a few more years before this technology gets fine-tuned. ‘’We will have clarity by the end of next year as to when we can complete the project,’’ Sivan said.

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