Desi SR-72 from ISRO
Recently an ISRO presentation on future space programs highlighted various new systems that ISRO was building for future capability expansion and it resembled a desi version of SR-72. These included the NSLV (for nano-satellite launches), LV/HRLV for heavy launch operations as well as the new SHLV that will also contain a recoverable booster (retro propulsive technology).
All about the desi SR-72 concept
An interesting project that was also showcased was the TSTO (twin stage to orbit) technology that ISRO aims to use in order to lower launch costs of satellites using since they are highly reusable and can be used to launch satellites at a moment’s notice with a higher turnover rate as compared to normal rockets that are mostly single mission usage only.
The TSTO will combine multiple programmes that ISRO have already been undertaking and therefore will be contain a large proportion of indigenous content. For example, rocket engines for both the first and second stage makes use of existing ISRO tech. Scramjet and turbo-ramjet technology had already been proved by ISRO by testing dual mode ramjet (DMRJ) technology in 2016 on ISRO’s advanced technology vehicle (a sounding rocket).
A dual mode ramjet (DMRJ) is a type of jet engine where a ramjet transforms into scramjet over Mach 4-8 range, which means it can efficiently operate both in subsonic and supersonic combustor modes. ISRO had already proven critical technologies such as ignition of air breathing engines at supersonic speed, holding the flame at supersonic speed, air intake mechanism and fuel injection systems through this experiment.
Lastly, although the RLVTD (reusable launch vehicle technology demonstrator) is used to test orbital applications of a space shuttle (which is not necessary for the TSTO which only reaches 50km altitude before deploying the second stage into orbit and therefore does not need to test re-entry technology), many lessons can still be learnt from this programme such as automated landing technology (since both programmes are unmanned). Therefore, ISRO has the individual components already successfully tested or under testing. It is just a matter of combining the technologies to finish the build of the TSTO.
The building of the TSTO is not only beneficial to the ISRO only. Although it is designed for civilian purposes, there is a possibility that multiple military applications can be derived from this technology. The TSTO has multiple similarities to the replacement programme for the SR-71 Black Bird (SR-72).
About the SR-72
The SR-72 is an optionally unmanned high-speed reconnaissance aircraft that will also feature a dual mode ramjet, allowing it to reach speeds of Mach 6. Unlike the Blackbird that was only used for reconnaissance roles, the SR-72 can be used for strike roles as well. The ISRO TSTO can not only carry a payload of 2 tonnes (which means it could possibly carry air-launched ballistic missiles, Brahmos NG or even anti-satellite weapons) but it also can travel faster than the SR-72 (Mach 9 with the scramjet and Mach 12 with rocket engines). Under a threat of a missile attack, the rocket engines could possibly help the TSTO escape from an enemy surface-to-air missile.
In conclusion, this new programme can create a quantum jump in both India’s space as well as its military ambitions. With a TSTO, India can finally leap ahead of the industrialized nations in the pursuit of scientific prowess.
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