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Scramjet success 

Scramjet success 
Highlights

The first experimental mission of ISRO’s indigenous Scramjet Engine towards the realisation of an Air Breathing Propulsion System was successful.

The first experimental mission of ISRO’s indigenous Scramjet Engine towards the realisation of an Air Breathing Propulsion System was successful. The ISRO thus reached yet another milestone in its unparallel odyssey. India is the fourth country to demonstrate the flight testing of Scramjet Engine.

The scramjet engine uses oxygen taken from atmospheric air as an oxidiser. Thus these engines are called air-breathing engines. Oxygen is essential for engine combustion. The rockets mix combustion fuel with liquid oxygen to propel the launch and the subsequent flight.

The weight of the space craft can be substantially reduced if the engine can breathe oxygen from atmospheric air instead of carrying liquid oxygen needed for providing the required thrust for the space journey. The reduced weight means lesser costs for the launch. 80 per cent of the lift-off mass of a launch vehicle is due to the oxidiser.

Thus smaller launch vehicles with more payload capacity promises cheaper access to outer space. The scramjet engine can also liquefy the oxygen and store it on board. Space agencies like ISRO which run on short string budgets can be immensely benefitted by cost reducing technologies.

The ISRO has also entered the highly competitive global space vehicle launch market. Development of such frugal engineering would give ISRO market edge. India is already known for cost effective space missions. The Chandrayan and Mangalyaan missions were carried out at a fraction of what NASA spent for similar missions.

The commercial civil aviation sector can also leverage this technology making the air travel cheaper. Experts feel that scramjet technology has a potential to reduce both travel time and cost having far reaching positive implications for the air travel industry.

This is only a technology demonstrating experiment. Soon ISRO would use this technology in all its usable and reusable rocket launch vehicles. Scramjet engine, used only during the atmospheric phase of the rocket’s flight, would help in bringing down the launch cost by reducing the amount of oxidiser to be carried along with the fuel.

Indian space science always had many spin off benefits. According to ISRO, some of the technological challenges handled during the development of Scramjet engine include development of materials withstanding very high temperatures, computational tools to simulate hypersonic flow, ensuring performance and operability of the engine across a wide range of flight speeds, proper thermal management and ground testing of the engines etc. The operational uses of these technologies can have multiple spin off benefits.

Scramjets are known to operate efficiently at extremely high speeds. Futuristic scramjet rocket engine technology can have applications in India’s missile programme too. Having tasted success with the indigenous development of a cryogenic engine for launch vehicles, the ISRO has now embarked upon another key technology for space missions. Indian space agency has the potential to bring many more laurels to the nation.

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