Space

ISRO Postpones Scramjet Test to Help Find Missing Air Force Plane

A new date has not been finalised for the scramjet engine test after ISRO decided the search took precedence over the experimental mission.

The RH-560 sounding rocket during a test in March 2010. Source: ISRO

The RH-560 sounding rocket during a test in March 2010. Source: ISRO

The Indian Space Research Organisation has put off testing a new kind of engine it built in July after an AN-32 plane, of the Indian Air Force, disappeared over the Bay of Bengal on July 22 with 29 onboard. The Air Force has sought ISRO’s assistance in tracking the plane down.

ISRO had planned to test its indigenous scramjet engine this month. The engine will eventually power the organisation’s reusable launch vehicle, expected to be ready in 2030. The test was going to see the engine, fit on a modified RH-560 sounding rocket and lifted to 70 km, fire for five seconds while travelling at Mach 6 (2 km/s). A scramjet engine ‘inhales’ the oxygen it needs to burn the fuel from the atmosphere, sparing the carrier vehicle the need to carry oxidisers and relieving additional payload space. The entire test was planned to span 260 seconds.

However, it was called off because the Air Force sought ISRO’s assistance in tracking the plane, after it went off the radar while en route to Port Blair from Chennai on July 22. Thirteen vessels of the Navy and two of the Coast Guard, apart from some others by the Air Force, have been deployed for the search. Satellite images are being sourced from ISRO while personnel from the National Institute of Ocean Technology are also helping zero in on the plane.

The New Indian Express reported K. Sivan, director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thumba, as acknowledging that the search took precedence over the experimental mission. He added that a new date for the scramjet engine test hadn’t yet been finalised either.