Startup Udaan: Agnikul to Liftoff World's First 3D-Printed Engine

Will Chennai's Agnikul redefine aerospace with its year-end launch featuring the world's first 3D-printed engine? Learn about the groundbreaking Agnibaan rocket, propellant innovations, and startup's mission to make history in small satellite launches.

Swati Dayal
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Aiming for the sky

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Making it an extremely proud moment for the country, Chennai-based Agnikul, a leading space startup specializing in satellite launch vehicles, is gearing up to launch its first flight by the end of this year. What makes this mission extraordinary is the inclusion of the world's first 3D-printed engine, marking a significant leap in aerospace technology. This maiden flight will serve as a crucial technology demonstration, mirroring Agnikul's larger-scale orbital launch set for 2024.

Targeting a Year-End Launch: Final Test Pending at IIT-Madras Campus

CEO Srinath Ravichandran confirmed the startup's ambitious timeline, stating, "We are looking to launch by the end of the year." The final hurdle lies in one pending test, set to take place at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Madras

Once this is successfully completed and the necessary reviews with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) are concluded, the launch vehicle, currently stationed at the launch pad, will be ready for takeoff. Emphasizing the complexity of the mission, Ravichandran stressed the importance of getting it right on the first attempt.

Agnikul's Agnibaan: India's Second Private Company for Small Satellite Launch Vehicles

If successful, Agnikul will become India's second private company to develop a small satellite launch vehicle, following the footsteps of Skyroot Aerospace, which achieved this milestone with the launch of Vikram S in November 2022. Agnikul, a startup incubated on the IIT-Madras campus, has developed a rocket named Agnibaan, set to distinguish itself from Vikram S in a significant way.

Innovation in Launch Trajectory and Payload Customization

While Vikram S operates as a sounding rocket launched from guide rails, Agnibaan will lift off vertically and follow a predetermined trajectory, executing precise maneuvers during flight. Agnibaan, specifically designed as a SubOrbital Technological Demonstrator (SOrTeD), is a single-stage launch vehicle offering high customizability. It can carry payloads of up to 300 kg to orbits around 700 km high, providing plug-and-play configurations tailored to the specific satellite being launched.

Key Distinctions: Propellant System and Agnilet Engine

Ravichandran highlighted two key differentiators for Agnikul's offering. Firstly, the propellant system and resizing capabilities set Agnibaan apart. Unlike a fixed capacity approach, the launch vehicles can be customized to accommodate different payload and satellite sizes. This flexibility is achieved through the use of liquid propellants, enhancing safety and reusability compared to solid propellants.

Secondly, Agnikul's Agnilet engine is a groundbreaking achievement. It is the world's first single-piece 3D-printed engine, entirely designed and manufactured in India. Successfully test-fired in 2021, the engine marks a significant milestone for 3D printing technology in the country, traditionally associated with medical applications.

Advanced Manufacturing at Agnikul's 3D Printing Rocket Factory

The integration process of the launch vehicle with Agnikul's private launchpad at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota was completed on August 15. Agnikul's 3D Printing Rocket Factory, boasting a state-of-the-art metal 3D printer from EOS, enables end-to-end manufacturing of rocket engines under one roof. This facility, equipped with advanced machinery, positions Agnikul at the forefront of aerospace innovation.

Catering to Low Earth Orbit Customers

Agnikul aims to cater to customers involved in the development of small satellites intended for low Earth orbit. The payload primarily consists of communication and imaging satellites, reflecting the company's commitment to advancing space technology for various applications.

In the event of a successful mission, Agnikul will secure its position as India’s second private company to develop a small satellite launch vehicle, making a profound impact on the country's aerospace landscape. The launch, scheduled for the year-end, is poised to be a defining moment in the history of space exploration.

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