Indian Space Startup Launches First Rocket With Fully 3D-printed Engine

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Indian startup launched the world’s first rocket with a single-piece 3D-printed engine on Thursday, marking another milestone in the country’s booming space economy.

The Agnibaan SOrTeD, Suborbital Tech Demonstrator, rocket weighing 575 kg and 6.2 meters long, was launched by Agnikul Cosmos from a private launchpad at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, off the Bay of Bengal.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to social media to congratulate the team and mark the launch as a “remarkable feat which will make the entire nation proud.”

The feat was achieved “entirely through indigenous design and development,” the company said in a statement.

“The key purpose of this mission, which is also Agnikul’s first flight, is to serve as a test flight, to demonstrate the in-house and homegrown technologies, gather crucial flight data and ensure optimal functioning of systems for Agnikul’s orbital launch vehicle.”

It is powered by the only India-manufactured rocket engine to use both gas and liquid fuel.

“What Agnikul has achieved today, is nothing short of a historical milestone … Agnibaan SOrTeD has got many firsts in its strides with being India’s first launch from a private launchpad, the first semi-cryogenic engine-powered rocket launch and the world’s first single-piece 3D-printed engine designed and built indigenously,” Lt. Gen. A.K. Bhatt, director-general of the Indian Space Association, told the media.

“This is a huge boost and a proud moment for India’s thriving private space industry and just a glimpse into what the future holds for us.”

India’s national space agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation, which has yet to fly a rocket with a similar engine, said Agnikul’s achievement was a “major milestone, as the first-ever controlled flight of a semi-cryogenic liquid engine realised through additive manufacturing.”

Agnikul, whose name is a combination of “fire” in Sanskrit, agni, and Hindi, kul, was founded in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, in 2017.

The company has over 200 engineers and 45 scientists who previously worked at the ISRO and are associated with the National Centre for Combustion Research and Development at the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras.

India’s first privately developed rocket, from the company Skyroot, was flown from the ISRO’s launch site in 2022.

The ISRO’s chairman, Dr. S. Somanath, said the many firsts in yesterday’s launch “demonstrate the prowess of indigenous design and innovation” and motivate the agency to support startups and the private sector “to create a vibrant space ecosystem in the country.”

India has been establishing a significant presence in the global space industry over the past few years.

Having become the fourth nation to soft-land a spacecraft on the moon in August last year, it aims to put an astronaut on the lunar surface by 2040.

In September 2023, India launched its sun mission with the Aditya-L1 spacecraft, which in January reached Lagrange point, 1.5 million km from Earth, to observe the photosphere and chromosphere and study solar wind particles and magnetic fields.

To date, the US is the only other country to have explored the sun with the Parker Solar Probe launched in 2021.

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