India Nears Historic Milestone! 3D-Printed, 2nd Privately-Developed Rocket Set To Be Fired From Private Launchpad

A space start-up in India is all set to make history when it launches its first rocket very soon, less than two years after the country saw the launch of its first-ever privately developed rocket.

Agnikul Cosmos Private Limited, a space start-up with its headquarters in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, will launch its first rocket, the Agnibaan Sub Orbital Technology Demonstrator (SOrTeD), from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, on March 22.

This launch is slated to be historic for several reasons. It will be the first rocket launch from a private launchpad in India, the first rocket launch powered by a semi-cryogenic engine, and the first-ever single-piece 3D-printed engine created and manufactured in the country.

Founded in 2017 by Srinath Ravichandran, Moin SPM, and Satya Chakravarthy, Agnikul Cosmos was the first company in the nation to sign a contract with ISRO under the IN-SPACe initiative, granting it access to the space agency’s facilities and knowledge to construct Agnibaan by December 2020.

The first stage of the three-stage Agnibaan rocket is propelled by seven Agnite engines, each of which can produce 25 kN of thrust at sea level. “All of these engines are electric pump-fed engines, allowing for simplified engine design and highly configurable engine clustering architectures,” Agnikul Cosmos stated.

AgniKul Cosmos - Wikipedia
AgniKul Cosmos – Wikipedia

The launch vehicle is designed to be a versatile apparatus that may propel small satellites into Low-Earth Orbit. When India opens up the space industry to outside capital, the company’s goal is to serve the multi-million dollar satellite launch market.

With a lift-off mass of 14,000 kilograms, the launch vehicle, measuring 18 meters in length and 1.3 meters in width, can transport a maximum payload of 100 kilos to an altitude of 700 kilometers.

Satya Chakravarthy, a professor at the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, and co-founder and advisor of Agnikul Cosmos, commented on the launch, saying to TheHindu, “This would be India’s first liquid oxygen-kerosene rocket flight in India, from India’s first privately developed launchpad, in Sriharikota.”

“More importantly, we would be flying our patented world’s most integrated single piece 3D printed rocket,” he added.

He further explained, “This is a sub-orbital launch, but it is not a sounding rocket. It has the full stack of closed-loop feedback guidance and control with a gimballed thrust vector control. As such, this is the first private launch in India requiring a flight termination system and a safety radius from the launchpad calculated from some tens of thousands of simulations of worst-case scenarios.”

Except for stage separation, Chakravarthy clarified, “This mission attempts to validate the guidance, control, and navigation system, the launch release hold mechanism, the entire command sequence operated by the onboard computer, telemetry, and tracking.”

He also made note of the fact that a post-flight analysis of every subsystem’s performance will come after the mission. As of now, the immediate plan is to prepare for the upcoming orbital trip.

This is not the first private rocket being launched by ISRO. Developed by four-year-old Hyderabad-based startup Skyroot Aerospace, Vikram-S was the first private rocket that lifted off from ISRO’s spaceport in Sriharikota in November 2022.

Vikram S - Wikipedia
Vikram S – Wikipedia

The rocket, standing six meters tall, was launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre and reached a maximum altitude of 89.5 kilometers before it started to descend. Vikram-S was among the first handful in the world made entirely of composite materials featuring 3-D printed solid thrusters to ensure the launch vehicle’s spin stability.

India’s space agency IN-SPACe gave the go-ahead for the launch of Skyroot’s suborbital Vikram-S rocket, ushering in a new era in Indian space technology. “This is a giant leap for the private space sector in India. Congratulations to Skyroot for becoming the first Indian company to be authorized to launch a rocket,” Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre Chairman Pawan Goenka said at the time.

ISRO chief S Somnath, who has generally backed the idea of growing the commercial aerospace industry in the nation, will be present for the March 22 launch of Agnikul

India Is Expanding Private Sector Presence

India’s space aspirations received a boost in August last year when it became the first nation to land a spacecraft close to the uncharted south pole of the moon and the fourth to accomplish a soft landing.

India is seeking to raise its part of the global launch industry fivefold to privatize space launches. It is estimated that the market will be valued at $47.3 billion in 2032. India currently accounts for over 2% of the space economy.

By August of last year, the Indian SpaceTech sector had received $62 million in investment, a 60% increase over the same period the previous year. It raised $28 million in investment in 2020, bringing its total funding to $35 million between 2010 and 2019. Further, the funding increased by 17% from $96 million in 2021 to $112 million in 2022.

According to Tracxn, which conducted this research, India was ranked seventh in the world for funding in the international space tech sector last year. It attributed this transition to the 2020 privatization of the space tech industry. Today, private organizations play a significant role in the development, production, and assembly of rockets and satellites, creating a thriving innovation ecosystem.

According to Tracxn, the private Indian sector has led the way in launching satellites for useful purposes, such as satellite-based communication services, including phone signals, broadband, OTT, and 5G. The government also has plans for a Production Linked Incentive (PLI) program for the production of satellites.

Rapid innovation is also occurring in the global space business, which includes the production of 3D-printed rocket parts, commercial space travel, reusable launch vehicles, mining of asteroids, and new propulsion technologies.

In a statement released last month, the Indian government indicated that foreign businesses might invest up to 100% of their profits without obtaining permission in the production of satellite systems, subsystems, and parts.

According to the announcement, foreign companies intending to construct satellites in India would not need government clearance for up to 74% of the investment; similarly, investment in launch vehicles might make up to 49% of the total without such approval.

“This will give India access to the latest tech advances and much-needed funds, not only from the country but from international investors too,” said A.K. Bhatt, director general of the Indian Space Association