Context: The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) successfully flight tested the Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV) – an unmanned scramjet vehicle with a capability to travel at six times the speed of sound.

More about news:

  • The test was conducted from Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Launch Complex at Wheeler Island, off the coast of Odisha. 
  • 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.
  • Agni missile was used.

About scramjets

  • The scramjets are a variant of a category of jet engines called the air breathing engines. 
  • Air goes inside the engine at supersonic speed and comes out at hypersonic speeds.
  • Hypersonic speeds are those which are five times or more than the speed of sound. 
  • The vehicle reaches a certain altitude, then cruises and also reaches very high temperatures, up to 1,000-2,000 degrees Celsius, during re-entry. 
  • Challenges: At the hypersonic speeds, the system has to handle temperatures to the range of 2500 degrees celsius as well as the air speed, and thus development of the material is one of the main challenges.
    • While the technology helps achieve hypersonic speeds, it comes with its set of disadvantages, and the obvious one being its very high cost and high thrust-to-weight ratio.

About the experiment

  • A solid rocket motor of Agni missile was used to take to an altitude of 30 kilometers where 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.
  • The unit tested can achieve upto six times the speed of sound or Mach 6, which is well over 7000 kilometers per hour or around two kilometers per second.
  • The critical events like fuel injection and auto ignition of scramjet demonstrated technological maturity. 
  • The special project of the DRDO consisted of contributions from its multiple facilities including the Pune headquartered Armament and Combat Engineering Cluster.

Scramjet technology in India

  • The DRDO started on the development of the engine in early 2010s. 
  • The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has also worked on the development of the technology and has successfully tested a system in 2016. 

Significance of the test

  • Indigenous defence technologies: The indegenous development of the technology will also boost the development of the systems built with hypersonic vehicles at its core, including both offensive and defensive hypersonic cruise missile systems and also in the space sector.
  • It has given scientists a large set of data points to work on for further development.

While the successful test is a major milestone, many more rounds of tests will have to be done to achieve the level of technology with countries like the US, Russia and China.

Image source: Nasa.gov