Hyderabad’s ‘rocketmen’ duo aim for the skies

Their startup test-fired India’s first privately-built fully cryogenic engine last month

December 06, 2021 12:07 am | Updated 07:04 pm IST - HYDERABAD

Skyroot Aerospace founders and ex-IITians Naga Bharath D. and C. Pawan Kumar

Skyroot Aerospace founders and ex-IITians Naga Bharath D. and C. Pawan Kumar

When Skyroot Aerospace successfully tested Dhawan-1 last month, it became the country’s first privately developed fully cryogenic rocket engine running on two high-performance rocket propellants — liquid natural gas (LNG) and liquid oxygen (LoX). The indigenous engine was developed using 3D printing with a superalloy.

That has set the city-based firm on a higher trajectory with an ambitious plan to launch the first private space launch vehicle using cryogenic engine Vikram-2 into orbit in two years. Before that, the two co-founders C. Pawan Kumar (IIT-Kharagpur, 2012 batch) and Naga Bharath D (IIT-Madras, 2012 batch) plan to put its first launch vehicle, 20-metre tall Vikram-1 based on solid propulsion engine, in space. This was after successfully designing and developing the solid propulsion rocket engine, the first private firm in the country to do so.

Passion for space tech

“We are space enthusiasts, always wanted to become entrepreneurs and capture emerging opportunities in the space sector. The world over, the private sector is driving innovations at a low cost. There was no regulatory framework when we began three years ago, but we are on the verge of taking off now testing multiple engines. Very few countries have developed a cryogenic engine,” said Mr.Pawan Kumar.

“It took us a year to conceptualise our work. We knew it required a lot of research, but we were pretty sure of our skill set. We have been able to iron out the deficiencies with a rigorous review system,” Mr. Bharath chimed in.

Incidentally, both were flatmates after being recruited by Indian Space Research Organisation, and worked on GSLV Mark III stage rocket before deciding to branch out on their own, together. “Our families supported us, realising our passion for space technology research though we were barely 30. We have been fortunate to have financial backing from Mukesh Bansal (Myntra founder), also a space enthusiast who believed in our dream. We are now a 100-member strong team,” they said.

Skyroot is working simultaneously on different stages of both solid propulsion and liquid propulsion engines, named after eminent scientists, like Kalam (Abdul Kalam) series for the former and Dhawan (Satish Dhawan) while the launch vehicles themselves are named after Vikram Sarabhai. In December last year, the intrepid team successfully test-fired the solid propulsion rocket engine.

National award

The firm has already won a national award for startups in space research and had an online interaction with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Our design is done here, manufacturing happens across the country, test-firing at Solar Industries site in Nagpur and tie-up with ISRO for launch facilities. The future is in small satellites for observation and communication through small rockets and it is a US$370 billion business, of which India has just 2% share,” they said.

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