A new facility on which missile warheads can be propelled at supersonic speeds has been inaugurated at the Terminal Ballistics Research Laboratory (TBRL), Chandigarh. The Rail Track Rocket Sled (RTRS) Penta Rail Supersonic Track comprises five precision-aligned rails, each four-km long; specially designed rocket motors; aerodynamic sleds; and advanced instrumentation. It allows the simulation of interception of a missile coming in at a supersonic speed. It can also be used for simulating the velocities encountered during the re-entry of crew capsules to be used in India’s manned missions to space and the parachutes that will be deployed to bring back the Indian astronauts safely to earth. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has built the facility at the Chandigarh laboratory. Avinash Chander, Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister, who inaugurated the facility on May 12, called it “a unique facility which allows you to test many situations on the ground for which you have to otherwise use missiles, launch vehicles and aircraft.”
Captive flight testing
A velocity of Mach 3 could be achieved on the ground with this facility. “The tracks will enable aerospace components to be tested on the ground at supersonic speeds, said Mr. Chander, who is also the DRDO Director-General. Mr Ravi Gupta, DRDO spokesman, said the facility allowed the country “to do captive flight testing.” Several DRDO laboratories, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Department of Atomic Energy would benefit from it, he added. The system consists of five rails called Penta Rail Supersonic Track. Each rail has a sled, which has a specially designed rocket fitted into it. When the rocket is fired, the sled with the payload is propelled at a very high velocity on the rail track. The tracks are precision-aligned and are capable of withstanding heavy loads travelling at supersonic speeds. Mr. Chander said the DRDO had started using the facility by firing the radio proximity fuse of its air-to-air Astra missile on May 12. The performance of the proximity fuse of the interceptor missiles can be evaluated using this system. “In the case of interceptor missiles, you can use two parallel tracks and you can fire two missile warheads in opposite directions. They cross each other at a very high velocity and their performance can be measured,” he explained. Mr Manjit Singh, Director, TBRL, said the capability acquired from using the facility would accelerate the pace of development of defence and aerospace technologies. Four-km long tracks were needed to achieve supersonic velocities, Mr. Gupta said. The system is equipped with instruments to measure the velocities achieved by the warheads; high-speed video and still cameras to record the events, solid state recorders, on-board telemetry system and other equipment to record the data. The system allows the recovery of the tested items for post-test analysis, Mr. Gupta added.