ISRO plans to test air-breathing propulsion system

After successfully testing a technology demonstrator of a reusable launch vehicle, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is planning to test an air-breathing propulsion system, which aims to capitalise on the oxygen in the atmosphere instead of liquefied oxygen while in flight. “The mission to test the technology would be launched either in the last week of June or early July from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota. The mission would be on a sounding rocket,” K. Sivan, Director of the Thiruvananthapuram-based Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre told. Generally, vehicles that are used to launch satellites use combustion of propellants with oxidiser and fuel. The air-breathing propulsion system aims at using oxygen present in the atmosphere up to 50 km from the earth’s surface to burn the fuel stored in the rocket.

Lower lift-off mass

“This system, when implemented, would help in reducing the lift-off mass of the vehicle since liquefied oxygen need not be carried on board the vehicle. This would also help increasing the efficiency of the rocket and also make it cost-effective,” Mr. Sivan said. The new propulsion system, once mastered, would complement ISRO’s aim to develop a reusable launch vehicle that would have longer flight duration. The system, involving the scramjet engine, would become crucial while sending up the spacecraft. “This is like satellites making use of solar power. Likewise, this technology aims to take oxygen from the atmosphere instead of carrying it all the way,” he explained. According to ISRO, the Dual Mode Ramjet (DMRJ), the ramjet-scramjet combination, “is currently under development, which will operate during the crucial Mach 3 to Mach 9 ascend flight of the launch vehicle.” ISRO is now evolving and testing various technologies to bring down the cost of launch vehicles. The national space agency has earlier developed rockets that can send multiple satellites in a single mission.


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