Home Science ISRO: Over 30 Years of Research Space Agency Launched High-Thrust Cryogenic Engine

ISRO: Over 30 Years of Research Space Agency Launched High-Thrust Cryogenic Engine


On 5th June 2017 Monday, India fires the high-thrust cryogenic engine CE-20 to launch GSLV MK III first experiment flight from Sriharikota. The incident pushes ISRO’s biggest dream about 13 years later than it was originally planned. In 2003, ISRO would have used the CE-20 powered GSLV Mk III, not for the US sanction and a foisted case. The launch, a conclusion of a long journey across more than three decades, will set the globe progressing for ISRO’s future projects including Chandrayaan-2 and the manned mission. ISRO’s move will be a first step towards setting its base in the global heavy payload market.  Former ISRO scientist, Nambi Narayanan said, “If there was no sanction, we would have operationalised GSLV Mk-II in 1999. By 2003-2004, we would have launched what we would be witnessing on Monday”. In the early 1990s, Nambi Narayanan was the project director for the development of the cryogenic engine. Indian Space Research Organisation wriggled over the years to get a cryogenic engine for its heavy launch vehicles. The delay also helped to get deeper into the technology. A cryogenic engine includes a complicated job of using liquid hydrogen at -253oC and oxygen at -183oC as fuel, only the US, Russia, China, Japan and the European Space Agency have achieved this feat.

In the 1970s, the agency began work to build indigenous cryogenic engine, however, it gained impetus after Russia denied the transfer of technology. But it was delayed as the space agency had to focus on their immediate requirements. Director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, K Sivan said, “With limited resources, manpower and budget, we had to give priority to immediate requirements including projects like SLV, ASLV, and PSLV, it was the same team working for all”. When Russia country delivered seven KVD-1 engines to India after rephrasing the contract post the US sanctions, it was a mix of enthusiasm, as it was only a supply of hardware and not a technology transfer. In 1994, space agency launched a project to build a cryogenic engine and the knowledge their engineers acquired through pilot projects. The engine CE-7.5 can be called an indigenous version, working on a staged combustion cycle, with Russian design, according to the ISRO scientist. Work to develop CE-20 engine began in 2002. The engine failed 800milliseconds after ignition during the launch of GSLV-D3 carrying a GSAT-4 satellite, on 15th April 2010. On 18th August 2013, the agency tried its second attempt using an indigenous cryogenic engine. In January 2004, GSLV Mk II got its first success. There were several tests that improved with CE20. PV Venkatakrishnan said, “The advantage of the technology is that changes can be made as and when the sub-systems are tested”.


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