Skyroot Aerospace Becomes First Indian Startup To Successfully Test In-house Upper Stage Rocket Engine

Skyroot’s first satellite launch vehicle Vikram I is on track to be launched in December 2021

Hyderabad, India-based spacetech startup Skyroot Aerospace successfully test-fired its Vikram-1 space launch vehicle’s upper-stage engine, Raman, named after late physicist and Nobel Laureate Dr C.V. Raman, the startup announced in its social media posts on Tuesday.

This makes Skyroot the first private space launch vehicle maker in India to have successfully built and tested a homegrown rocket engine.

Launch vehicles are a combination of several small vehicles called ‘stages,’ with each stage equipped with its own propulsion. Skyroot’s rocket has three stages and uses solid propulsion for the first two stages, and liquid propulsion for the upper stage, according to a YourStory report.

Raman engines are capable of multiple restarts, and 4 Raman engines with multi-start capability can produce a thrust of 3.4kN and capable of inserting multiple satellites into different orbits in a single mission, a rare feature among current launch vehicles, according to the startup’s Facebook post.

Raman consists of 3D printed injector, which reduces engine mass by 50%, and the number of components and lead time for manufacturing by 80%, CEO and CTO Pawan Kumar Chandana told Economic Times.

Vasudevan Gnanagandhi, another former Isro scientist and Senior Vice president at Skyroot, heading the liquid-propulsion team, added, “This test has qualified a unique monolithic design of injector with complex internal channels and demonstrated high performance for hypergolic rocket propellants.”

Skyroot was founded in 2018 by former Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) rocket engineers, Chandana and COO Naga Bharath Daka, and builds small satellite launch vehicles (SSLV) for small satellites weighing less than 500kg.

The startup has raised US$4.3 million to date from Myntra Founder and Curefit CEO Mukesh Bansal, and space and defence contractor Solar Industries. According to a report by TechCrunch, the startup is currently looking to raise funding of $15 million by 2021.

The startup aims to build three types of launch vehicles—Vikram I, II and III—named after Indian physicist, astronomer, and ISRO founder Vikram Sarabhai. Its first SSLV Vikram I is on track to be launched around December 2021.

“Our first launch vehicle ‘Vikram-I’ which is under manufacturing, hosts an Orbit Adjustment Module (OAM) at the top which gives the final burn and inserts multiple satellites into space. In an ‘Indias first’, we successfully test-fired its liquid engine,” Daka told PTI.

Skyroot has developed in-house software for launch vehicle guidance, navigation, and control functions, and testing for onboard avionics modules is in progress, according to a report by PTI.

According to a 2019 DataLabs by Inc42 report, there are 120 active aerospace startups in India, with 64% of them incorporated in or after 2014.

However, it was only in June this year, that the Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, announced the deregulation of space and atomic energy industry to allow private participation.

Following the announcement, the Department of Space is setting up the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), which will function as an arm of ISRO and promote, hand-hold, monitor and supervise space activities by private entities.

IN-SPACe will be functional by the end of the year and will also guide private companies with ISRO’s infrastructural, scientific and technical resources to boost their space programmes.

On July 31, further welcoming private companies into the space sector, ISRO Chairman K Sivan announced that ISRO will allow private players to set up their own launch facilities at Sriharikota launch centre without any charges, and will provide support and expertise required to set up such facilities.

According to a report by Frost And Sullivan, 20,425 satellites will be launched between 2019 and 2030, with the small satellite launch market reaching $28 billion by 2030.

While the report claims that satellite launched will be lead by North America, it represents a huge opportunity for satellite launch service providers like Skyroot.

Header image courtesy of Skyroot Aerospace

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