The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has successfully test fired on Sunday, Aug. 28 its own air-breathing engines, called scramjets. The engines, were tested during a sub-orbital flight of ISRO’s Advanced Technology Vehicle (ATV).
Weighing nearly 3.3 metric tons, the ATV sounding rocket, also known as RH-560, lifted off the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) in Sriharikota at 6:00 a.m. local time (8:30 p.m. EDT, Aug. 27). The flight, lasting about five minutes, was India’s first experimental mission of the scramjet engine technology, in order to the develop an indigenous air-breathing propulsion system.
During the flight, ISRO performed burnout of booster rocket stage, ignition of second stage solid rocket, as well as tested the functioning of active scramjet engines for five seconds.
“Once the second stage reached the desired conditions for engine ‘start-up’, necessary actions were initiated to ignite the scramjet engines and they functioned for about five seconds,” ISRO said in a press release.
Test-firing of these engines was followed by a burnout of the second stage. The mission, designated ATV-D02, concluded with the planned touchdown of the vehicle in the Bay of Bengal, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) from Sriharikota. According to ISRO, all the tests were conducted successfully.
“With this flight, critical technologies such as ignition of air breathing engines at supersonic speed, holding the flame at supersonic speed, air intake mechanism and fuel injection systems have been successfully demonstrated,” ISRO said.
Scramjet engines, using oxygen from the atmosphere, could cut the cost of rocket launches, by reducing the amount of oxidizer needed to be carried along with the fuel. With the successful Sunday flight, India became the fourth country to demonstrate the flight testing of a scramjet engine.
“The launch marks an important landmark in our space program and demonstrates, yet again, India's capabilities in space launch technology. With this test, India has joined the select club of nations which have the technology of air-breathing engines,” said Pranab Mukherjee, the President of India.
ISRO noted that the successful test is a modest but important milestone towards designing and developing advanced air breathing engines. These scramjets could be used in India’s future space transportation system.
ATV is a two-stage spin stabilized launcher with identical solid motors as the first as well as the second stage. For the Sunday’s mission, the twin scramjet engines were mounted on the back of the rocket’s second stage.
The mission was initially planned to take place earlier, however it was re-scheduled due to the disappearance of Indian Air Force AN 32 plane on July 22, 2016, as many ships and aircraft were patrolling the Bay of Bengal looking for the missing airplane.
The first ATV mission was launched in March 2010 to test hypersonic flight characters of a passive scramjet engine.