Private Indian Startup Unveils Rocket Engine, Aims for Smallsat Market

Dhawan-1 cryogenic engine (Credit: Skyroot Aerospace)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On Thursday, a commercial Indian launch startup named Skyroot Aerospace unveiled its Dhawan-1 cryogenic engine to mark the 100th anniversary of Indian rocket pioneer Satish Dhawan.

The company said the engine is 100 percent 3D printed using additive manufacturing. It will be powered by liquified natural gas and liquid oxygen.

Satish Dhawan was an Indian aerospace engineer who was a pioneer experimental fluid dynamics research. He served as the third chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The nation’s spaceport is named after him.

Dhawan-1 will be used as the upper stage of Skyroot’s Vikram II booster. The company is developing three Vikram rockets to serve the small satellite launch market.

Vikrams will launch payloads ranging from 225 kg to 720 kg depending upon the rocket used and the orbit desired. Skyroot says the boosters can be assembled and launched within 24 to 72 hours with minimal infrastructure.

According to a story in the Economic Times, Skyroot was founded by three former ISRO employee who are looking to take advantage of India’s decision to allow private space companies to operate.

Skyroot Aerospace, a Hyderabad-based startup backed by Curefit founders Mukesh Bansal and Ankit Nagori, is developing a rocket which can be assembled and launched in a day that will be used to hurl small satellites into space, eyeing a slice of the global market for tiny satellite launches that is expected to grow over the next decade.

Skyroot, founded by former Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) scientists Pawan Kumar Chandana, Naga Bharath Daka and Vasudevan Gnanagandhi, expects to demonstrate its first rocket by 2021, which they say could potentially reduce launch costs by a third.

“We are one of the rare companies building expertise in both solid and cryogenic propulsion,” Chandana, the chief executive of Skyroot Aerospace told ET. “Solid propulsion is the cheapest option for small launchers and cryogenic propulsion is complex, but provides the best efficiency and is highly scalable for larger vehicles.”

TechCrunch describes CureFit as “a health and fitness company offering digital and offline experiences across fitness, nutrition, and mental well-being.” The company has raised $404.6 million.

Vikram boosters (Credit: Skyroot Aerospace)

Skyroot describes the three Vikram boosters as follows.

Vikram I

  •  225 kg to 500 km sun synchronous polar orbit (SSPO)
  • 315 kg to 45º inclination 500 km low Earth orbit (LEO)
  • Highly reliable solid propulsion stages with proven design heritage.
  • Orbital Adjustment Module with re-start capability enables multi-orbit insertions.
  • Requires minimal range infrastructure. Can be assembled and launched within 24 hours from any launch site.

Vikram II

  • 410 kg to 500 km SSPO
  • 520 kg to 45º inclination 500 km LEO
  • Advanced methalox engine replaces third stage of Vikram 1.
  • Upper stage cryo-engine with re-start capability enables multi-orbit insertions.
  • Requires minimal range infrastructure. Can be assembled and launched within 72 hours from any launch site.

Vikram III

  • 580 kg to 500 km SSPO
  • 720 kg to 45º inclination 500 km LEO
  • Upgrade to Vikram 2 with additional low-cost strap-on solid rocket boosters.
  • Upper stage engine with re-start capability enables multi-orbit insertions.
  • Requires minimal range infrastructure. Can be assembled and launched within 72 hours from any launch site.

The launch vehicles are named for Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, who is known as the father of Indian space program. The physicist and astronomer helped found and served as chairman of the Indian National Committee for Space Research, which later became ISRO.