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Giant leap for India: Agnikul launches first rocket factory to make 3D-printed engines

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New Delhi, Nov 09: In yet another feat for the country that brings India closer to its vision of 'Aatamnirbharta', Space tech startup Agnikul Cosmos on Wednesday successfully tested one version of India's first rocket factory to make 3D-printed engines through Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), the lead Centre of ISRO for the development of launch vehicles.

Giant leap for India: Agnikul launches first rocket factory to make 3D-printed engines

The testing was conducted on the 15-second hot test of AgniKul's engine, called Agnilet on November 8 at its Vertical Test Facility, Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS), Thiruvananthapuram.

The test was carried out as part of MoU signed between ISRO and M/s Agnikul Cosmos Pvt. Ltd. to provide opportunity for Indian space start-ups to use facilities of ISRO through IN-SPACe.

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Agnikul tweeted,''Humbled to announce that we successfully test fired one version of our patented technology based single piece, fully 3d printed, 2nd stage semi cryo engine - Agnilet - at VSSC.'' ''Besides validating our in-house tech, this is also a huge step for us in understanding how to design, develop & fire rocket engines at a professional level. An unforgettable day for Agnikul!,'' it said.

Terming the successful test an "unforgettable moment" for everyone at AgniKul, CEO and co-founder Srinath Ravichandran said,"Testing a semi cryo engine at ISRO is a dream come true. I remember seeing the VSSC vertical test stand for the first time in 2018. Agnilet did not exist then. We had just embarked on 3d printing. Inconel as a material for regeneratively cooled engines was new. Since then, having gone through 100s of iterations of injectors, injector plates, igniters, cooling channels and more, the team figured it would be possible to push 3d printing to its limit to achieve the thermal equilibrium required and safely start and run this engine."

''Now with @INSPACeIND and @isro 's support, having been able to verify this engine's performance & thermal characteristics at VSSC, we know we have validation of what it means to reliably operate engines built this way,'' he said.

It should be noted that fully designed and manufactured in India, the Agnilet engine was previously successfully test fired at IIT Madras in 2021. The engine has been developed in single-piece through 3D printing with no assembled parts. On 8 November 2022, Agnilet was successfully test fired to validate the design and manufacturing methodology used in the development process.

AgniKul Cosmos holds the patent for design and manufacturing of single-piece rocket engine. The first dedicated factory to manufacture large number of 3D printed rocket engines is in IIT Madras Research Park.

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Agnilet Engine is a regeneratively cooled 1.4 kN semi-cryogenic engine, working at a chamber pressure of 10.8 bar(a) using Liquid oxygen and Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF) as propellants. This engine is realised through state-of-the-art 3D printing technology and material of construction is INCONEL-718.

AgniKul Cosmos

AgniKul Cosmos Private Limited is an Indian aerospace manufacturer based in National Center for Combustion R&D (NCRD) of IIT Madras, Chennai. The start-up aims to develop and launch its own small-lift launch vehicle such as the Agnibaan.

Agnibaan- Launch vehicle

Agnibaan is a highly customizable, 2-stage launch vehicle. It is capable of taking upto 100 kg (220 lb) satellite to orbits at around 700 km high and can access both low and high inclination orbits. It is completely mobile-designed launch system for accessing more than 10 launch ports. The rocket will be 18 meters long with a diameter of 1.3 meters and a lift-off mass of 14,000 kg (31,000 lb). Driven by LOX/Kerosene engines in all its stages, Agnibaan will use clustered engines on first stage in various configurations depending upon the payload. The launcher also has the capability for a plug-and-playengine configuration that is customisable to precisely match a mission needs. The rocket is supposed to be manufactured by 3D printing at whole.

However, this is not the first time, 3D printing began to be used in production versions of spaceflight hardware in early 2014, when SpaceX first flew a flight-critical propulsion system assembly on an operational Falcon 9 flight.

A number of other 3D-printed spacecraft assemblies have been ground-tested, including high-temperature, high-pressure rocket engine combustion chambers and the entire mechanical spaceframe and integral propellant tanks for a small satellite.

A 3D printed rocket engine successfully launched a rocket to space in 2017, and to orbit in 2018.

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