City startup fires single-piece 3D-printed rocket engine

A Chennai-based startup, Agnikul Cosmos, has successfully fired its higher stage semi-cryogenic rocket engine — Agnilet. This is a unique rocket engine because it is completely 3D printed, as a single component, in one run of a 3D printer. “Agnilet was ground tested at IIT-Madras on Saturday evening,” Srinath Ravichandran, CEO and co-founder of Agnikul Cosmos, said.

“This entire engine — Agnilet — is just one piece of hardware from start to finish and has zero assembled parts. We don’t think anyone in the world has ever pushed a 3D printing of a rocket engine to this extent,” he said.

Satellite launch vehicle

Mr. Ravichandran explained, “This is the engine that will power the second stage of Agnibaan rocket. This was tested on the ground, as is standard practice before actually flying it. This is done repeatedly to understand all performance parameters of the engine.”

Agnikul is building India’s first private small satellite launch vehicle called Agnibaan, a rocket that will be capable of carrying up to 100 kg of payload to low earth orbits up to 700 km, with a plug-and-play engine configuration.

The startup has been testing engines at a smaller scale or those that were not 100% additively manufactured since September 2018. However, The is the first time the startup has demonstrated firing of a semi-cryogenic fully 3D-printed rocket engine.

Rocket engines usually have hundreds of parts, starting from injectors that inject fuel into the engine, cooling channels that cool the engine, to the igniter that is necessary to ignite the propellants. Agnilet was designed to encapsulate all of these into just one piece of hardware. So, this automates the making of an entire engine.

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“Everything about this engine is Indian,” said Moin SPM, co-founder and COO of Agnikul Cosmos. “From Agnikul’s operations standpoint, we are relieved that we will not have to track or manufacture numerous parts to realise a rocket engine from now on,” he said. All that remains after printing is bare minimum post processing after which the engine can directly be assembled in our launch vehicle.” he added.

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