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Hypersonic cruise vehicle test puts India in elite club

The hypersonic air-breathing scramjet technology was successfully demonstrated by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) on Monday with a flight test of the hypersonic technology demonstrator vehicle (HSTDV), which will lead to the development of hypersonic cruise missiles and vehicles in future.

“It’s a major technological breakthrough in the country. This testing paves the way for development of more critical technologies, materials and hypersonic vehicles. This puts India in a select club of nations that have demonstrated this technology,” DRDO chairman G. Satheesh Reddy said.

A test of the technology demonstrator was conducted in June 2019.

“With this success, all critical technologies are now established to progress to the next phase,” Defence Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted.

The HSTDV took off at 11.03 a.m. from the Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam launch complex on Wheeler Island off the Odisha coast. “The hypersonic cruise vehicle was launched using a proven solid rocket motor, which took it to an altitude of 30 km, where the aerodynamic heat shields were separated at hypersonic speed,” the DRDO said in a statement.

The cruise vehicle separated from the launch vehicle and the air intake opened as planned. “The hypersonic combustion sustained and the cruise vehicle continued on its desired flight path at a velocity of six times the speed of sound, which is nearly 2 km/s, for more than 20s,” it added.

‘Major breakthrough’

With this technology, cruise missiles could now travel at hypersonic speeds, a defence source said. “Scramjet engine is a major breakthrough. Air goes inside the engine at supersonic speed and comes out at hypersonic speeds,” the source noted.

The vehicle reaches a certain altitude, then cruises and also reaches very high temperatures, up to 1,000°-2,000° Celsius, during re-entry. “After the Anti-Satellite Test, this is the biggest achievement recently,” the source pointed out.

Critical events such as fuel injection and auto ignition of the scramjet demonstrated technological maturity, the DRDO said. “The scramjet engine performed in a textbook manner. It worked at high dynamic pressure and at very high temperature.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated the DRDO on Twitter. “The scramjet engine developed by our scientists helped the flight achieve a speed six times the speed of sound! Very few countries have such capability today.”