By Start Ups

India made history in the space sector on Thursday with the first launch from a private launchpad of the country’s second privately built rocket and the first using a combination of gas and liquid fuel.


Chennai-based space startup AgniKul Cosmos launched a single-stage technology demonstrator rocket — Agnibaan SOrTeD (suborbital technological demonstrator) — at 7.15 am from Sriharikota.


SOrTeD uses the world’s first single-piece 3D-printed engine, designed and built indigenously. This comes after the company called off a test flight of its first rocket on Tuesday, hardly a few seconds before its launch. This was the fourth such cancellation in the past three months. This launch is also considered historic because the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) has not yet successfully flown a semi-cryogenic engine, in which a mix of liquid and gas is used as a propellant.


Agnibaan also has the unique distinction of having been launched from India’s first private launchpad Dhanush, established by AgniKul.


The startup is looking at flying an orbital mission towards the end of 2024–25 and is working with customers on flights starting regularly in the calendar year 2025.


S Somanath, chairman of Isro, said, “The Department of Space and Isro congratulate AgniKul Cosmos on the successful launch of Agnibaan SOrTeD. The success involving many firsts, including 3D-printed semi-cryogenic engines, flight control systems, etc., demonstrates the prowess of indigenous design and innovation. It motivates Isro to support space startups and non-governmental entities for innovation and atmanirbharta to create a vibrant space ecosystem in the country.”


Modi, in a post on X, said, “A remarkable feat that will make the entire nation proud! The successful launch of the Agnibaan rocket powered by the world’s first single-piece 3D-printed semi-cryogenic engine is a momentous occasion for India’s space sector and a testament to the remarkable ingenuity of our Yuva Shakti. My best wishes to the @AgniKulCosmos team for their future endeavours.”


The key purpose of this mission, which is also AgniKul’s first flight, is to serve as a test flight, demonstrate in-house and home-grown technologies, gather crucial flight data, and ensure optimal functioning of systems for AgniKul’s orbital launch vehicle, the ‘Agnibaan’.


Pawan Goenka, chairman of Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), the commercial arm of Isro, said, “Today it is the power of young innovators and entrepreneurs who are leading from the front, innovating with cutting-edge technology such as the world’s first 3D printed semi-cryogenic engine, that is driving the transformation of India’s space sector. At IN-SPACe, we are committed to supporting these young pioneers as they help to propel India to a leadership position in the global space arena.”


“AgniKul’s achievement is nothing short of a historical milestone since India launched its maiden rocket in 1963 from the Thumba launch station. This is a huge boost and a proud moment for India’s thriving private space industry, and just a glimpse into what the future holds for us. Our hearty congratulations to the entire team behind this and best wishes for their future efforts,” said A K Bhatt, director-general, Indian Space Association.


“This significant launch, coupled with the recently introduced guidelines for the implementation of the Indian Space Policy 2023 by IN-SPACe and the new foreign direct investment regulations, will undoubtedly bolster global confidence in India’s private space industry and its growing capabilities,” he said.


The Agnibaan rocket is a customisable, two-stage launch vehicle that can carry up to 300 kilogram (kg) of payload to orbits nearly 700 kilometre in altitude, the company said. This can be compared to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, which can carry 63,500 kg to low Earth orbit, according to reports.


It was in November 2022 that a private company, Skyroot Aerospace, successfully developed and operated the launch vehicle Vikram-S on a sub-orbital flight from Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, becoming the first player to do so.


Founded in 2017 by Srinath Ravichandran, Moin S P M, and S R Chakravarthy, a professor from IIT Madras, AgniKul became the first Indian firm to sign an agreement with Isro in December 2020. This pioneering agreement was facilitated under the IN-SPACe initiative, granting AgniKul unprecedented access to Isro’s expertise and cutting-edge facilities. The company is one of the highest-funded space startups in India and has raised $42 million so far.


The AgniKul team consists of over 200 engineers and is associated with National Centre for Combustion Research & Development at IIT Madras. Additionally, the team is guided by 45 former scientists from Isro who bring invaluable expertise to the endeavour of democratising access to space.


Rocket science 


300 kg: Payload capacity of Agnibaan rocket


700 km: Altitude limit up to which the payload can be carried


200: Number of engineers in the AgniKul team


$42 million: Fund raised by AgniKul startup so far 

First Published: May 30 2024 | 9:49 AM IST

Source: Start Ups