Tamil Nadu women break space barriers with Agnikul's innovative 3D-printed engine

A 3D-printed rocket is a spaceship that incorporates components produced through additive manufacturing utilising 3D-printing technology.
K Umamaheswari and Saraniya Periaswamy
K Umamaheswari and Saraniya Periaswamy

CHENNAI: Women scientists had played a key role in the 66-second test flight of the Agnibaan suborbital technology demonstrator (SOrTeD) on May 30 which was powered by a single piece 3D printed engine, a first in the world. The women staff, who made up 30% of the workforce, were associated with various subdivisions of the mission, and they played a stellar role in helping Agnikul Cosmos, a space sector start-up incubated at the IIT-Madras Research Park in 2017, bring global laurels to India, sources said.

A 3D-printed rocket is a spaceship that incorporates components produced through additive manufacturing utilising 3D-printing technology. Compared to conventional rockets, 3D-printed rockets demonstrate superior fuel efficiency, reduced weight, and significantly faster construction time.

Saraniya Periaswamy, vehicle director, who led the team that developed the 3D printed engine and the launch vehicle, and K Umamaheswari, project director of Mission-01 who spearheaded the project from the drawing board stage to liftoff, are now targeting orbital mission by 2025. The success of the mission came after four attempts, they said when asked about the frequent changes in the rocket launch date.

The scientists said after the success of the 3D-printed engine, Agnikul is working on a new electric-pump-fed engine.

“In this bipropellant rocket engine, the fuel pumps will be electrically powered so that all of the input propellants will be directly burned in the main combustion chamber, and none will be diverted to drive the pumps,” they said.

“We are planning to launch the orbital mission in a year and it could be from Kulasekharapatnam or Sriharikota,” Umamaheshwari said, adding that the single-piece 3D-printed engine would reduce the time taken to manufacture the engine as the number of components or interfaces will be minimal.

“Apart from engine, we have other components which are 3D printed,” Saraniya said.

The average age of those working in the startup is 25 to 30 years. ”We have advisors who guide us in every step from design to manufacturing to testing,” said the women directors.

Agnikul has 200 employees. Umamaheshwari, who holds a B Tech degree in aeronautical engineering from Madras Institute of Technology, Anna University, says her role was to build the vehicle from design to manufacturing and to integrate it with the launch pad.

“The 3D-printed rockets are primarily designed as satellite launch vehicles used for moving satellites and positioning them into precise, low-earth orbits. With further advancement, these technologies could be potentially used for manned space missions too. Saraniya says the goals and the market which these startups are looking is different. We are focusing on small satellites that can reach their orbits quickly.”

“Since my background was in aeronautics, I wanted to work with an institution which has to do with aerospace. And from my college days, I was keen on hardware,” Saraniya said.

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