First full-fledged test of space launchers soon

Will reduce dependency on Russia for validation

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has achieved a major breakthrough to calibrate and test its launchers, those meant to help escape the earth’s atmosphere and those which help re-enter it.

The Horton Spheres.

This would mean India does not have to depend on Russia for the launchers like it did all these years, thereby reducing loss of time considerably.

ISRO sources said the first (cold) test, with the wind at room temperature, was conducted about three months ago and the system’s performance was alright. The hot test, with temperatures going all the way up to 1,000 degree Celsius, they said, was pending.

“It should be conducted in the next four-six months,” a source said.

The system will be used to test models of the re-usable launch vehicle, which is key to India’s proposed manned mission to space. ISRO has already begun work on a 9x9 metre winged rocket prototype - Re-usable Launch Vehicle Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD).

The prototype, considered a critical breakthrough, once completed, will allow the space agency to assess how close it is to developing a fully re-usable Two Stage To Orbit vehicle.

Sources said that a Horton Spheres System (along with wind tunnels), which creates vacuum enabling calibration of the launchers, has been installed at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC).

The System, manufactured by a Bangalore-based firm, comprises three Horton Spheres each with a diameter of 16.3 metre and 2,200 cubic metre capacity.

It has two parallel pumping trains, each with two mechanical booster pumps with a pumping speed of 30,000 cubic metre per hour, backed successively by booster pumps of 14,000 cubic metre per hour and 7,000 cubic metre per hour and finally by three rotary piston pumps, each with a pumping speed of 1,325 cubic metre per hour.

Added to this, a complete range of measurement and control instrumentation as well as vacuum valves are part of the system, which boasts of six large capacity heat exchangers to ensure cooling of the high temperature exhaust air from the booster pump.

“High pressures are created from one side of the tunnel and low pressures operate from the other side in vacuum, creating Mach numbers between 4 to14,” sources said, adding that these are the kind of machs encountered by launch vehicles while leaving or entering the earth’s atmosphere.

Speaking to Deccan Herald, Nagarjun Sakhamuri, Managing Director of Hind High Vacuum Company Private Limited - the firm that manufactured the Horton Spheres - said, “Earlier, all our launchers were sent to Russia for validation process. But this system enables ISRO to do all the validation here.”

The system basically simulates the velocity encountered by the launch vehicles, the temperatures they have to deal with, he said.

“The vehicles are suddenly exposed to shock waves under pressurised conditions and checked for various criteria,” sources said.

Noting that the system’s accuracy level is 1:5, Sakhamuri said, “Prior to this, ISRO did its tests with miniature models of the launchers and those had an accuracy of 1:50. That is why it had to depend on Russia for validation.”

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