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India’s Cryogenic Engine

India’s Cryogenic Engine

Why in news

The indigenous cryogenic engine in the third, topmost stage fired flawlessly for 12 minutes, to put the 2,117-kilogram communication satellite GSAT-6 into its initial orbit.

An important feature of GSAT-6 is its six-metre diameter unfurlable antenna which will help Indian armed forces personnel communicate with each other on secure lines using compact handheld devices.

What is cryogenic engine

A cryogenic rocket engine is a rocket engine that uses a cryogenic fuel or oxidizer, that is, its fuel or oxidizer (or both) are gases liquefied and stored at very low temperatures. Notably, these engines were one of the main factors of NASA’s success in reaching the Moon by the Saturn V rocket.

A Cryogenic rocket stage is more efficient and provides more thrust for every kilogram of propellant it burns compared to solid and earth-storable liquid propellant rocket stages. Specific impulse (a measure of the efficiency) achievable with cryogenic propellants (liquid Hydrogen and liquid Oxygen) is much higher compared to earth storable liquid and solid propellants, giving it a substantial payload advantage.

However, cryogenic stage is technically a very complex system compared to solid or earth-storable liquid propellant stages due to its use of propellants at extremely low temperatures and the associated thermal and structural problems.
How India got Cryogenic engine

It was then that Isro thought of procuring cryogenic engines from other countries. After rejecting offers from the US and France for both the sale of engines and transfer of technology, India approved an offer by the Soviet Union’s Glavkosmos space agency in 1990. India sent eight scientists to Moscow to work with Soviet scientists. They worked there for 15 months, but did not have access to everything.

Then, 15 months after the deal was signed, the US raised objections citing a violation of the international Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). The West feared that cryogenic technology could be used by India to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles, which is rejected by Indian scientists.

Eventually, in 1993, Glavkosmos backed out of the deal and revoked the transfer of cryotechnology agreement. Under a renegotiated deal, Russia decided to provide four fully functional engines and two mock-ups. It also agreed to supply three more cryogenic engines at a cost of $9 million.

At this point, the Space Commission, which formulates and implements the Indian space programme, approved a Rs.280 crore project to develop an Indian cryogenic engine, the C12.

Its benefit to India

  • With ISRO proving again the robustness of the GSLV-Mk II equipped with an indigenous cryogenic engine, it can be declared an operational vehicle.
  • ISRO need not depend on the European Space Agency to put its communication satellites, weighing more than two tonnes, into a geostationary transfer orbit. This means an enormous saving of money because foreign space agencies charge anywhere between $22,000 and $25,000 a kg to put a satellite into orbit.
  • GSLV-Mk II can now put Chandrayaan-II, which weighs 2,018 kg, into orbit. Work is proceeding apace at the ISRO Satellite Centre and the ISRO Satellite Integration and Test Establishment, Bengaluru, to build the orbiter, the lander and the rover. It will be a totally indigenous mission and is scheduled for 2017/2018.

Problem due to cryogenic


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Disadvantage cryogenci

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cryogenic other usages

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Despite hurdles and denials today India is one of the few nations possessing cryogenic engine technology. Comment and also discuss its various usages.

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