January 11, 2006

India Joins Nations on Rocket Technology

BANGALORE, India -- India has joined a handful of countries with the technology to build a new type of supersonic rocket that could reduce satellite launching costs by nearly 90 percent, the nation's space agency said Tuesday.

The so-called Supersonic Combustion Ramjet - or Scramjet - technology should eventually help India build lighter and faster rockets, the Indian Space Research Organization said.

Conventional rockets carry their own oxygen to burn as fuel, but Scramjet rockets will take oxygen from the atmosphere, making them lighter and faster.

Indian scientists this week tested a prototype Scramjet engine for seven seconds, simulating travel at six times the speed of sound, said a space agency spokesman, S. Krishnamurthy.

The fastest that a conventional aircraft can fly while taking in air is Mach 3.2, or 3.2 times the speed of sound, achieved by the U.S. Air Force's SR-71 Blackbird.

"We need his new technology to do that (take in air) at a velocity of Mach six," Krishnamurthy said, adding that scientists hope Scramjets will eventually be able to reach speeds as high as 24 times the speed of sound.

The U.S. has already carried out a flight test with a Scramjet engine, while the Europe Union, Japan, China, Russia and Australia are in different stages of testing their technologies.

Developers hope that Scramjets could bring the cost of launching satellites from the current level of $12,000 or more per 2.2 pounds of payload to less than $1,000.

"We have now proven our technology on the ground and hope to do a flight-test within two years, though mastering the technology might take up to 10 years from now," he said.


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