A couple of days before the fifty-fifth anniversary of the first Indian-built sounding rocket launch, a Hyderabad-based private space company, Skyroot Aerospace became the first private Indian company to launch a sounding rocket from the Sounding Rocket Complex at the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota.
Journey to the Launchpad
Pawan Chandana and Bharat Daka started Skyroot Aerospace in 2018. They were joined by a group of former scientists from India’s civilian space and defence establishment. They raised seed funding of $1.5 million from Mukesh Bansal in June 2018.
On 22 December 2020, they tested a scaled-down version of their solid-fuel engine, Kalam 5. They followed the test with a full-duration test of the Kalam 100, the engine that would fly on their launch vehicle, Vikram 1 on 19 May 2022.
The Government of India liberalized India’s space sector in an announcement by India’s finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman on 16 May 2020. “Indian private sector will be a co-traveler in India’s space journey,” she said.
The Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) was created in June 2020 to be a single-window agency to promote, authorize and “supervise” non-governmental space entities in India. IN-SPACe authorized the launch of Skyroot’s rocket, Vikram-S on 7 November 2022.
Mission patch of Skyroot Aerospace’s Prarambh mission of its Vikram-S rocket. Source: Skyroot Aerospace.
Vikram-S is a sounding rocket. A sounding rocket is an instrument-carrying rocket designed to take measurements and perform scientific experiments during its sub-orbital flight.
It has a Kalam 80 solid fuel engine. The rocket was scheduled to fly from the Sounding Rocket Complex, Satish Dhawan Space Center, Sriharikota on 15 November 2022. Skyroot paid an undisclosed amount for “integration facilities, range communications, and tracking support before and during the rocket launch”.
The sounding rocket carried three payloads from SpaceKidz India, N Space Tech India, and Bazoomq from Armenia. These payloads flew with Vikram-S and were destroyed with the rocket.
Weather played spoilsport and delayed the launch to 18 November 2022.
The flight profile of the mission included a flight to an altitude of 81.5 km. This crosses the McDowell line that sets the boundary of space at 80 km. The profile anticipated splashdown of the rocket 115.6 km in the Bay of Bengal.
Flight profile of the Vikram-S flight. Source: Skyroot Aerospace.
The rocket slid along the rails of the launch pad and flew off the launch pad. The actual flight lifted off at 11:30 am (IST) on 18 November 2022. The four 3D-printed solid-fuel spin stabilization system fired a little while after the sounding rocket left the launching rails.
Vikram-S after lift-off. Note the smoke from the spin stabilization system mid-body of the rocket. Source: ISRO.
The rocket flew to an altitude of 89.5 km in 155 seconds. Skyroot had already stated that it saw the rocket crossing an altitude of 50 km as success.
The historic event was covered by a very poor webcast experience.
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