Chennai-based Agnikul is looking to make it possible to offer rapid-turnaround on-demand space launches — by 3D printing custom rocket engines and other components in less than three days.
"We are building a launch vehicle that carries a payload capacity of 30 to 300 kilograms [around 66-660lbs], depending on the needs of the customers," Agnikul's chief operating officer Moin SPM tells IEEE Spectrum in an interview. "We are trying to provide a rapid, on-demand launch service by 3D-printing the entire rocket engine in one shot."
The company, which is in incubation at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT Madras), has already hit an impressive goal: Its one-piece 3D-printed rocket engines can, Moin claims, be pre-processed, printed, and post-processed in just three days.
zKey to its achievement: Designing the rocket engines, known as Agnilet and designed for use in the customizable Agnibaan launch vehicle, to fit the printer, allowing it to use an unmodified off-the-shelf 3D printer — or, rather, a whole family of printers, its smallest rockets requiring seven of the engines and its largest an impressive 21.
Not everything the company makes is 3D-printed, though. Aside from the engines, the majority of the rocket is made using more traditional manufacturing techniques — though the company also produces other components, like cryogenic pumps, using 3D printers capable of working in metal.
"We've successfully tested the engines independently and now we are putting them together and trying to do a cluster test," Moin explains in the interview. "We've got a lot of structural components done, so once the clustering test is finished we'll be integrating the vehicle and I think it should be ready for a test launch next year, maybe around the fourth quarter."