July 14, 2024
1 Solar System Way, Planet Earth, USA
Discovery

Challenges for India's emerging commercial launch industry

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Agnikul launched a small suborbital rocket on May 30 to test technologies for a future orbital launcher. (credit: Agnikul)


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After persevering through four failed launch attempts over a month, Chennai-based space startup Agnikul launched its first rocket demonstration mission called “Suborbital Tech Demonstrator” (SOrTeD) on May 30. However, unlike what many national and international media reports have implied, and that tweets from the company either ISRO Do not actively clarify against the single-stage classified vehicle. was not destined to reach space. It was not just a suborbital mission but directly subspace, unlike the 2022 launch of competitor Skyroot. Prarambhwhich reached an apogee of 89.5 kilometers, compared to less than 10 for SOrTeD.

As can be deduced from Sibu Tripathi's statement previous report, the real goal of SOrTeD was to demonstrate and learn from a minute-long controlled flight, using a minimal rocket structure powered by the in-house developed 3D-printed liquid oxygen/kerosene semi-cryogenic engine called Agnilet. The flight was successful in that objective. That said, the private company did not livestream the launch or share even high-level flight parameters. based on the launch videowhich arrived through unofficial means, engine failure appears to have occurred about five seconds before than expected. However, since we do not know the differences between the achieved and predicted trajectory, including the maximum altitude reached, it is difficult to measure the discrepancies.

ISRO provided the flight termination system for SOrTeD, which fortunately did not need to be activated. ISRO also helped the company with mission reviews, flight tracking and allowed Agnikul to establish its private launch pad at the Sriharikota spaceport.

The turbulent path ahead

Agnikul will use data from the SOrTeD mission to characterize the performance of its systems and prepare for future launches. The company raised $26.7 million last year to begin work on multiple orbital launch attempts of its customizable Agniban Small launch vehicle. Agnibaan can lift a maximum of 300 kilograms to an Earth orbit of 700 kilometers. While SOrTeD is certainly a positive step for Agnikul, an orbital test flight reaching space will require reaching many more milestones. As such, it is difficult to see the company making an orbital attempt in 2025 as claimed.

It's hard enough being a rocket company outside of American soil; an Indian entity only faces even more obstacles.

Its competitor Skyroot is further along in attempting to carry out an orbital flight of its small rocket called Vikram-I. The successful company He tested the rocket's second stage engine., called Kalam-250, in March. The company also recently raised $27.5 million, hoping to launch Vikram-I later this year. It may be difficult to achieve, but the year 2025 is still realistic. Other recent milestones of Vikram-I include flight qualifying its Raman-I enginewhich will provide roll attitude control, hotShooting the Raman-II engine that powers the fourth stage of Vikram-I, and the First stage passing the pressure test..

The problem, however, is that neither company has announced a confirmed payload customer for its orbital flights. citing only letters of intent and MoU with potential clients so far. Furthermore, both Skyroot and Agnikul also need to compete with ISRO's own SSLV rocket, which has not only had a successful orbital demonstration yeah but it will be went to production through an imminent transfer of the industry. As such, my concern is that even after demonstrating successful orbital flights, Indian private rocket companies could find themselves without customers in an already ruthless market.

It's hard enough being a rocket company outside of American soil; an Indian entity only faces even more obstacles. Although the Indian government has Opened With no foreign direct investment (FDI) approval for the country's private space sector, launch vehicle companies can only freely pursue up to 49% FDI. This is likely for national security reasons, but it hampers an Indian rocket startup's ability to scale. With the nature of the competition outlined above, and without a high launch cadence, it will be an uphill battle for these companies to survive and be profitable this decade, unless they pivot to address the country's strategic needs.


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