ISRO to test kerosene as fuel for semi-cryogenic engine

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ISRO is developing a semi-cryogenic engine that will use eco-friendly kerosene as propellant.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is working on a project that can redefine the working model of the semi-cryogenic engine as it plans to use kerosene as propellant.

If everything goes according to plan, ISRO will test its first kerosene powered semi-cryogenic engine by 2021.

After the success of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk-III (GSLV Mk-III), ISRO’s Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC), researchers at ISRO facility in Valiyamala is focusing on the next level – the development of the much-delayed semi-cryogenic technology.

“Various tests are in progress on the engine. Of the four turbo pumps in it, three have undergone tests at the ISRO Propulsion Complex, Mahendragiri. We plan to have the engine ready by 2019-end, the stage by 2020-end and the first flight by 2021,”the New Indian Express quoted S. Somanath, director, Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC).

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Unlike the cryogenic engine, which uses a combination of liquid hydrogen (LH2) and liquid oxygen (LOX) as propellant, the semi-cryogenic engine replaces liquid hydrogen with refined kerosene (Isrosene as ISRO calls it) though LOX will be retained as oxidizer.

Using refined kerosene as fuel has its advantages of being eco-friendly and cost-effective. The current fuel — a combination of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen—is heavier than kerosene and has to be stored at freezing temperatures of -253 degree Celsius, whereas, kerosene is a lighter liquid fuel and is stable at normal temperature. The budget will also decrease to a great extent by the replacement of the fuel.

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The Times of India reported that Dr. K Sivan, director of Thiruvananthapuram-based Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, said, “Kerosene is a fuel lighter than the conventional combination of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen but it gives higher thrust. Therefore kerosene occupies less space and more propellant can be packed in the semi-cryogenic engine’s fuel compartment.”

“However, liquid oxygen will be retained as oxidizer. The advantage of using this semi-cryogenic engine is the payload capacity of the launch vehicle will increase from four tonnes to six tonnes. This kind of rocket with the semi-cryogenic engine can therefore take heavier satellites into space and can also be used for interplanetary missions and deep space missions,” he added.

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LPSC had developed the cryogenic engine for the GSLV Mk-II and the much powerful one for the GSLV Mk-III. The idea is to replace the second stage of the GSLV Mk-III, which now uses a liquid stage, with the semi-cryo. The rocket will retain the cryogenic upper, third stage.

The Union Cabinet had cleared the semi-cryogenic engine project in 2008 at an estimated cost of Rs 1798 crore ($278.6 million). Although the idea was to develop the technology by 2014, the project got delayed.