ISRO to bank on semi-cryogenic engine for heavy lift rockets

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has progressed to the testing of subsystems in the development of a semi-cryogenic engine for rockets with heavier payload capacity.

The testing facilities at the ISRO Propulsion Complex, Mahendragiri, are being augmented for the engine being developed by the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre here under a project codenamed SCE 200. Three of the four turbo pumps of the new engine have been tested and the pre-burner and thrust chamber are being readied for testing, LPSC Director S. Somanath told The Hindu.

The semi-cryogenic engine uses a combination of liquid oxygen (LOX) and refined kerosene (Isrosene) as propellants.

ISRO scientists have simultaneously begun work on the stage configuration. ‘‘We hope to complete the development of the engine by 2019. The stage test is expected to take place by 2020, followed by the first flight test in 2021,’’ he said.

One of the options before ISRO is to replace the liquid core (L110) engine of the GSLV Mark 3 with the SCE-200 to boost the payload capacity of the rocket from four to six tonnes. ‘‘That could be one of the immediate applications of the new engine, though the objective is to power the future heavy lift launch vehicles and reusable launch vehicles as well as human spaceflight missions,’’ K. Sivan, Director, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, said.

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Mindful of the fact that the standard size of satellites is expected to go up in the near future, ISRO is already looking much ahead. On the cards is a proposal to develop a bigger semi cryogenic engine with a cluster of four or five engines that could generate a lift of eight to 10 tonnes.

A clustered semi cryogenic booster with a more powerful cryogenic upper stage is another possibility. ‘‘Once we have mastered the technology, we could possibly go on to modular development of rockets with different configurations,’’ Mr. Somanath said.

But before that, ISRO needs to ensure that critical technologies such as special materials and coatings, brazing process, kerosene refinement, combustion instability and control components are mastered and the necessary infrastructure is in place.