India’s Agnikul Successfully Launches Maiden Rocket with 3D Printed Engines


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Chennai, India-based space startup Agnikul successfully launched its first flight on May 29, 2024. Mission 01 sent the Agnibaan SubOrbital Technological Demonstrator (SOrTeD) on a suborbital flight from India’s first private launchpad at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC-SHAR) in Sriharikota. Agnibaan SOrTeD completed a controlled vertical ascent and a series of pre-determined maneuvers before returning to Earth.

Initially scheduled for launch in early 2024, Agnibaan was postponed several times. These delays were primarily due to issues detected during pre-launch checks, with the first delay occurring just 92 seconds before liftoff in April, when an unforeseen technical issue was identified.

Other launch attempts were postponed due to similar technical problems, only highlighting the complexities associated with testing new rockets. However, with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi pushing for the privatization and commercialization of the space sector, Agnikul was truly striving to conduct India’s second private rocket launch, following startup Skyroot’s 2022 launch of the Vikram-S rocket.

Currently, India accounts for only 2% of the $400 billion global commercial space market. However, with Modi’s push for space sector privatization and increased foreign investment, the country plans to expand its share to $40 billion by 2040. With so much potential, Agnikul is aligning its mission with India’s broader goals in the global space market.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussing Agnikul's plans for rockets.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussing Agnikul’s plans for rockets. Image courtesy of Agnikul.

Agnibaan’s successful launch from a private launchpad marks a significant achievement for the company and India’s space industry. This launchpad, developed in collaboration with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Center (IN-SPACe), proves how much startups are growing in India’s space sector and represents a change toward democratizing space exploration.

The Dhanush mobile launchpad, introduced by Agnikul in March 2024, was created to launch the Agnibaan rocket from any location on Earth. According to the startup, customers can choose their launch sites, changing how satellite launches are done and opening a new chapter in space exploration.

Agnikul established India's first private launchpad at ISRO's most commonly used launchpad in Sriharikota.

Agnikul established India’s first private launchpad at ISRO’s most commonly used launchpad in Sriharikota. Image courtesy of Agnikul.

Agnikul’s advances extend beyond mobile launchpads. While traditional rockets often use guide rails for stability during launch, the Agnibaan lifts off without them. Instead, it uses advanced autopilot and gimbaling thrust systems, both developed and tested in-house, to perform complex maneuvers during flight.

Even more so, the Agnibaan spacecraft is powered by the 3D printed Agnilet semi-cryogenic engine. A vacuum-optimized version designed for the second stage of the Agnibaan orbital vehicle, this engine combines multiple parts into a single piece, making it lighter and more reliable.

Unlike traditional engines that require complex assembly and welding, Agnilet is produced on-site using laser powder bed fusion (L-PBF) and high-grade aerospace materials like copper, Inconel, Monel, and titanium. This advanced manufacturing technique not only cuts down production time for Agnikul but also minimizes errors, making it easier to ensure the engine can perform as planned and is safe.

Agnilet is a single piece, 3D printed, semi cryogenic engine. Image courtesy of Agnikul.

Committed to reducing launch costs and offering customizable solutions, Agnikul positions itself as a key player in India’s rise in the space industry. This historic launch marked a series of firsts for India’s space sector: the first private launch from a private launchpad at SDSC-SHAR and the first flight with a semi-cryogenic engine. The mission’s success was a result of a collaborative effort with IN-SPACe, ISRO, and the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT Madras).

Agnikul’s work with 3D printed rocket engines and its launchpad proves that private companies are becoming key players in the global space market. Despite some challenges and setbacks, the trend is clearly moving towards a bigger role for startups. This change is supported by partnerships with space agencies, showing a growing influence of the private sector in space exploration.

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