How ISRO developed the indigenous cryogenic engine

Discussion in 'Strategic Forces' started by Neeraj Mathur, Jan 9, 2014.

  1. Neeraj Mathur

    Neeraj Mathur Regular Member

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    How ISRO developed the indigenous cryogenic engine


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    The year was 1987. V Gnanagandhi, head of the cryogenic engine project at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), wanted to set up a high-pressure hydrogen plant in Mahendragiri near Thiruvanathapuram. But an official from the supplier of the machinery, a German company called Messers Grieshem, suddenly threw a spanner in the works. "There are snakes and elephants on the roads in India," he told them. "How can I come there?"

    Gnanagandhi reached a compromise with the Grieshem executive. He need come only as far as Mumbai; the entire ISRO team would meet him there. He agreed. The German—his name is now forgotten—agreed to sell the machinery, but was also inquisitive. "Why do you need a high-pressure hydrogen facility?" he asked. "We are using it to launch rockets," came the answer. "You cannot just fill an engine tank with high-pressure hydrogen," he told the ISRO team. "It will evaporate in no time." The ISRO engineers, thus, learned a thing or two about dealing with hydrogen at high pressure.
    How ISRO developed the indigenous cryogenic engine

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    A few days ago, Gnanagandhi retired after watching his baby fly on a Geostationary Launch Vehicle (GSLV), marking the culmination of a journey that was shot through with frustrations, technology denials, quiet diplomacy and sheer hard work. After two decades of development, India developed the cryogenic technology, giving it the much-needed capability to launch medium-sized satellites in a geostationary orbit, and joined an exclusive club of six nations. But on that day in 1987, at their Mumbai Guest House, ISRO engineers, led by Gnanagandhi, were taught a thing or two about hydrogen under pressure by their German guest.


    Obtaining The Engine

    Brought into the nascent cryogenic engine team in 1984, Gnanagandhi had begun his job with clean slate. He had not even heard about the cryogenic engine. He didn't know how to get liquid oxygen or liquid hydrogen, let alone how to use them in an engine. But he learned quickly, set up the facilities, and made a one-tonne prototype engine by 1988. It blew up during a test. "We had used liquid nitrogen to clean the nozzle," says Gnanagandhi. "And nitrogen solidifies and clogs the nozzle at liquid oxygen temperatures." ISRO was led by UR Rao at that time. ISRO had been planning larger rockets.

    Cryogenic engines were absolutely essential to put satellites in geostationary orbit, but the technology was difficult and a closely guarded secret. India had offers of engines. US firm General Dynamics offered first at a high price, and so did the French. It was then that Russia, which was going through difficult times, offered it at a reasonable price. India signed a deal in 1991 for two engines and the technology.

    Everything looked good, but soon wasn't. The Americans pressurised the Russians into reneging on the deal, saying its engines will be used for nuclear missiles.

    ISRO would get the engines but not the technology. UR Rao went to talk to the Americans, and to tell them something that everybody knew: cryogenic engines cannot be used in a missile. But the US had strong commercial interests in denying India the technology. Rao's meeting with vice-president Al Gore was futile.

    Rao then negotiated with the Russians. "I told them that I had paid them too much money for just two engines," says Rao. "If you are not giving me the technology, give me six more engines." Eventually ISRO got seven engines. However, flying them was not a simple matter as there were no data about their performance. The engines that ISRO got hadn't been flown yet in any rocket. ISRO engineers discovered they had to work hard to make the engines fly in their launch vehicle. "We found that the Russian engines did not perform as well as we expected," says Vishnu Kartha, who now heads the cryogenic project.

    Developing The Technology

    If flying the Russian engines was hard, copying the engine design was harder. The Russians had designed these engines in the 1960s but not flown them, probably because they were still not flight ready. Moreover, they used a technology— called stage combustion—that was efficient but difficult. It made the engine a bit heavy but gave the highest efficiencies for a specific amount of propellant. The indigenous engines had to be exactly like the Russian engines: the GSLV has already been planned based on them.

    The Indian government gave a formal approval to the Cryogenic Upper Stage (CUS) project in 1994. The budget was Rs 300 crore. ISRO then made a key decision quite in keeping with its tradition: involve the private industry from the beginning. "We didn't want to first develop the technology and then transfer it," says BN Suresh, now Vikram Sarabhai distinguished professor in ISRO.

    The two major partners were Godrej and the MTAR Technologies. Godrej set up the rotary vacuum brazing facility in Mumbai. Brazing was a key and difficult technology, and setting up the facility took more than a year. MTAR made the turbo pump and some other components.

    The sophistication of the cryogenic engine would be obvious from a few simple facts. The liquid hydrogen is kept at -253 degree centigrade. The turbo pump operates at 500 degree centigrade and rotates 40,000 times a minute. The combustion temperature is around 3,000 degree centigrade.

    The pressure inside the combustion chamber is 60 times the atmospheric pressure. The chamber wall has to withstand the high pressure and temperature. No material can withstand a temperature of 3,000 degree centigrade, and so the combustion chamber wall has to be cooled.

    Lift Off

    ISRO's cryogenic team made the first 7.5-tonne engine in 2000. It blew up while being tested. The hydrogen valve had prematurely closed, affecting the oxygenhydrogen ratio in the combustion chamber. "We became failure-hardened," says Mohammed Mulsim, head of the cryogenic project at that time. "After each failure we went back not to the Russian engines but to the drawing board." They succeeded finally in 2002. The indigenous cryogenic engine was qualified in 2003. It took another four years to integrate it with the GSLV. But the first flight failed in 2010, as the engine shut down three seconds after ignition.

    ISRO then conducted a thorough review of the entire GSLV project. For the cryogenic engine, special vacuum testing facilities were created at Mahendragiri. By 2013 end, every likely cause of failure was looked into. A few days before the GSLV flew on January 5, ISRO officials conducted a review meeting to clear the vehicle for launch. Such meetings usually take several hours. This one ended in 45 minutes. Every possibility had been analysed, and project leaders were quietly confident.

    When it flew, the GSLV put the satellite into orbit with a precision never possible with the Russian engines. "We took a long time to develop the engine," says ISRO chairman K Radhakrishnan, "but all countries took 10-15 years to develop cryogenic technology." ISRO now has to develop a more powerful engine, to put a 4-tonne satellite into geosynchronous orbit. The older generation that led the first cryogenic engine development has retired. It has been such a long journey, it gave the younger generation now in command a deep understanding of cryogenic technology. And they have long stints left in ISRO.

    How ISRO developed the indigenous cryogenic engine - The Economic Times
     
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  3. sasum

    sasum Atheist but not Communists. Senior Member

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    IDN TAKE: ISRO Building a Monstrous Rocket to Carry 10-Tonne Satellites

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    ULVs long term goal is to replace PSLV, GSLV & LVM MK3 with a LV having common core stages - Semi-Cryogenic stage (SC-160) & Cryogenic stage (C25) - and solid boosters with variable fuel loading

    Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is building its heaviest rocket yet, which can carry satellites weighing 10 tonnes into space, even surpassing the GSLV-MK III which is under testing. Currently, the space agency’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV MK-2) can carry satellites weighing around 2 tonnes.

    PROPELLING INTO THE FUTURE
    CGI concept of ISRO's Semi-Cryogenic Rocket Engine

    [​IMG]The proposed rocket would be powered by a semi-cryogenic engine — that runs on kerosene and liquid oxygen, which the space agency is currently developing. Semi-cryogenic engines are environment-friendly and bring down the cost of launches significantly. The design process for the semi-cryogenic engine has been completed and it is being built by Godrej Aerospace, which also makes the Vikas engines for ISRO’s rockets.

    Unknown to many, an important development is underway at ISRO, for the past couple of years it has been working on a future vehicle series which is modular in design and structure, in which the key objectives are to simplify vehicle integration, bring efficiency in operations and in the long run achieve significant cost accruals. The new series is called the Unified Launch Vehicle (ULV)program, which will eventually replace the PSLV and the GSLV launch vehicles. As stated in several ISRO resources, the ULV will be a series of 3 to 4 expendable launch types and will feature common liquid stages for all variants resulting in considerable amount of cost savings, usability, maintainability and reliability.

    Though the media has hyped about GSLV-MkIII LV as a "Monster" rocket, it is however the Unified Launch Vehicle (ULV) which will be a true blue "Monster". This will be the real coming of age for Indian space technology and capabilities which will make India on par with more advanced space fairing nations, it will also augment ISRO's commercial prospects to a great extent. ULV will also be used to send the first Indians to the Moon and bring them back safely back to earth, and it is certain that the ULV will be used for sending India's own space station into orbit. Besides, we can expect India in a couple of decades aim to send humans to Mars and beyond.

    A rendering of Clustered Semi-Cryogenic Engines
    [​IMG]The vehicle, as its name suggests will unify ISRO's various class of launch vehicles which is currently being used into a single launch vehicle platform. The plan is to have a common liquid semi-cryogenic core as the First stage with variable fuel loading capabilities for all of its variants. The Second stage will also be equipped with a Cryogenic stage which will be highly configurable thus having the ability to satisfy various payload requirements of customers. Currently ISRO has launched the CE-7.5, which powered the GSLV-Mk2 in January 2014, the other engine currently under development for the Mk-III is the CE-20, further developments are either in progress or planned such as the CE-60 and the CE-100 engines. The vehicle will mate solid propellant Strap-on boosters of different variations (S12, S60, S138, and S200) for the boost phase. Hence, by adjusting the fuel and power levels of the stages, a single launch vehicle can be used to launch various payload mass thus eliminating the requirement to have multiple launch vehicles, this is the sole aim of the ULV project.

    PROPOSED VARIANTS

    • The smallest version of the ULV uses six S-13 boosters and has a launch mass of 274 tonnes. The payload capacity is 1.5 tonnes to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) and 4.5 tonnes to Low-Earth Orbit (LEO)
    • The second version uses two S-60 boosters and has a launch mass of 340 tonnes. The payload is 3 tonnes to GTO or 10 tonnes to LEO
    • The third version uses two S-138 booster and has a launch mass of 560 tonnes. The payload is 4.5 tonnes to GTO and 12 tonnes to LEO
    • The most powerful variant is to use the S-200 booster of GSLV-Mk3 and has a launch mass of 700 tonnes. The payload is 6 tonnes to GTO and 15 tonnes to LEO

    As per ISRO the following objectives for the Semi-Cryogenic engine have been realized:

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    The Preliminary Design Review (PDR) for Semi-cryogenic engine development has been completed
    Preparation of fabrication drawings of subsystems have been completed.
    Realisation of copper alloy, hydraulic actuation system, heat exchanger and ejector & single element pre-burner (PB) for Thrust chamber.
    Injector spray charaterisation using PIV was carried out. Test facility for single element pre-burner commissioned at PRG facility, VSSC.
    Semi Cryo Test facility design by M/s Rolta has been completed.
    Configuration design of subscale engine is completed.
    Hydraulic Actuation System (HAS) and Hydraulic Power System (HPS) for Engine Gimbal control is completed and Technical specifications are finalized.
    Single Element Pre-Burner injector element has been hot tested successfully.
    Ignition of LOX/Isrosene propellant with hypergolic slug igniter and flame holding has been completed.
    Demonstration of safe handling of pyrophoric fluid TEA, validation of start sequence, characterization of injector elements and qualification of Hayness-214 material are the other major achievements of the tests.
     
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  4. sasum

    sasum Atheist but not Communists. Senior Member

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    Here I am tempted to mention Dr. Nambi Narayan episode and how CIA got him implicated in false espionage case when US realised that he knew a lot about cryogenics and was about to bring India's cold engine ambition to reality. Dr. Nambi developed Vikas engine, albeit with intensive French assistance for decades; but Vikas has turned out to be a very reliable & robust workhorse for PSLV.
     
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  5. Gessler

    Gessler Regular Member

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  6. HariPrasad-1

    HariPrasad-1 Senior Member Senior Member

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    My solution for high weight carrying.
    1) Change fuel to NEPE
    2) Light weight component motors and pumps (Though they are very costly).
    3) Composite cryogenic engine for higher efficiency,
    4) Introduce Semi cryo booster and second stage motor.

    That's it.
     
  7. Gessler

    Gessler Regular Member

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    At present, ISRO's emphasis is on low-cost rather than high-capacity. The art is about finding the perfect balance. So if there's a part that can increase payload capacity but at the cost of upping the prices considerably, ISRO might not take it.

    Situation could change in about a decade's time though.
     
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  8. HariPrasad-1

    HariPrasad-1 Senior Member Senior Member

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    Yes, ISRO will always have to find cost effetcive solution as it has high ambition and low budget.

    And Modi called him for meeting. After the completion of meeting, Nambi said that he has become the fan of Modi.
     
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2016
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