India Test Fires Domestically Built Upper Stage for GSLV

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BANGALORE — The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has successfully hot fired the indigenously developed cryogenic engine that will serve as the upper stage for the nation’s Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), ISRO announced Oct. 28.

Describing the test as a major milestone , ISRO Chairman Gopalan Madavan Nair told reporters here shortly afterward that India has “joined the elite club” of space faring nations.

The achievement will enable ISRO to launch its first GSLV featuring a domestically built upper stage next year, an ISRO press release said. The four GSLV rockets launched to date utilized cryogenic upper-stage engines procured from Russia.

The test was carried out Oct. 28 at the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre at Mahendragiri, about 300 kilometers southeast of Bangalore, ISRO said. The test lasted for 50 seconds and the “performance was as predicted,” the release said.

ISRO embarked on the 3.36 billion-rupee ($75 million) solo effort to develop a cryogenic upper stage in 1993 after Russia, under pressure from the United States, backed out of a deal in which it was to provide technical assistance to India. ISRO settled for buying seven complete engines from Russia.

ISRO’s engine, fueled by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen and featuring regenerative cooling systems — whereby the fuel is used as coolant — produces 7 tons of thrust in a vacuum, the release said. The turbo pumps used for drawing propellant from the tanks operate at a speed of 42,000 revolutions per minute , the release said.

During the last three years the engine alone had logged 6,000 seconds of test time , ISRO said. The latest test was the first involving the entire upper stage, including the engine, insulated propellant tanks, booster pumps, fill and drain systems, pressurization systems, gas bottles, igniters, and the cold gas orientation and stabilization system.

The test “has demonstrated the design adequacy and performance of the integrated flight system,” ISRO’s release said. “After completion of the qualification tests, the indigenous cryogenic stage is planned to be flight tested in [the] GSLV-D3 mission next year,” the release said.

In an Oct. 29 interview, ISRO spokesman S. Krishnamurthy said the successful testing was a combined effort of the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre, the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Trivandrum, the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota and Indian industry.

According to ISRO’s performance budget report for 2006, ISRO will continue the cryogenic engine project by developing new variants capable of generating 15 and then 25 tons of thrust, ultimately boosting the GSLV’s payload capacity to 4 tons . The first test flight of the 25-ton-thrust engine is planned for 2008 or 2009, according to the report.