Atmanirbharata: India’s Hypervelocity Test Facility

India has achieved a major milestone in its journey towards Atmanirbhar Bharat by establishing and testing its first Hypervelocity Expansion Tunnel Test Facility at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (IITK). This is a major achievement that puts India among a handful of countries with this advanced hypersonic testing capability. In this article, we will explain what the facility is, why it is important for India, and how it was developed.

What is the Hypervelocity Test Facility?

The Hypervelocity Test Facility, also known as S2, is a state-of-the-art experimental facility that can generate flight speeds between 3-10 km/s, simulating the hypersonic condition. Hypersonic speed is defined as any speed above Mach 5, which is five times the speed of sound. At such high speeds, the air around the vehicle becomes extremely hot and ionized, creating complex aerodynamic and thermal effects that are difficult to predict and control.

The facility was indigenously designed and developed by the Hypersonic Experimental Aerodynamics Laboratory at the Department of Aerospace Engineering, IIT Kanpur. It consists of four major sections: free piston driver, compression tube, shock/acceleration tube and test section with high vacuum system for generating and sustaining the hypersonic flow. The free piston driver is a large cylinder that compresses helium gas to create a high-pressure wave. The compression tube is a long pipe that transfers the pressure wave to the shock/acceleration tube. The shock/acceleration tube is a short pipe that converts the pressure wave into a shock wave that accelerates the test gas (usually air or nitrogen) to hypersonic speed. The test section is a rectangular chamber where the hypersonic flow interacts with the model of the vehicle or system under test. The high vacuum system maintains a low pressure in the test section to avoid interference from the ambient air.

The facility is equipped with sophisticated instrumentation such as pressure sensors and associated equipment/instruments for acquiring and processing the data. The pressure sensors measure the pressure distribution on the model surface and in the flow field. The data acquisition system records and stores the data for further analysis. The data processing system converts the raw data into meaningful parameters such as pressure coefficient, heat transfer coefficient, drag coefficient, etc.

Why is it important for India?

The Hypervelocity Test Facility is a valuable asset for India’s space and defense sectors, as it can be used to test and optimize various hypersonic vehicles and systems. These include:

  • The Gaganyaan mission, which aims to send Indian astronauts to space by 2024. The mission will use a crew module that will re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere at hypersonic speed and land safely using parachutes. The facility can help test the aerodynamic and thermal performance of the crew module and its heat shield.
  • The Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV), which is a winged spacecraft that can launch satellites and return to Earth. The RLV will reduce the cost of space access by reusing the launch vehicle multiple times. The facility can help test the aerodynamic and thermal performance of the RLV during its ascent and descent phases.
  • The hypersonic cruise missiles, which are fast and maneuverable weapons that can evade enemy defenses. The hypersonic cruise missiles will have a range of over 1000 km and a speed of over Mach 6. The facility can help test the aerodynamic and thermal performance of the missile body and its scramjet engine.

The facility will also enable more aerospace engineers and researchers to pursue hypersonic research in India, which is a fast-growing field of study. The data generated in the facility will serve as an input for developing advanced computational models and simulations of hypersonic flows. These models and simulations can help design and optimize new hypersonic vehicles and systems with better performance and efficiency. The facility will also facilitate international collaboration and exchange of knowledge in this domain.

The establishment of such a facility will position India globally for advanced experimental hypersonic research. It is a major capacity boost for India’s scientific and technological development and innovation. It also reflects the vision of the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, to make India a self-reliant nation in all spheres.

How was it developed?

The development of the facility was supported by the Fund for Improvement in S&T Infrastructure (FIST) of the Department of Science & Technology (DST) with a sum of Rs 4.5 Crores in 2018. The project was led by Prof. Ashoke De, who is an expert in hypersonic aerodynamics and the head of the Hypersonic Experimental Aerodynamics Laboratory at IIT Kanpur. The project involved a team of faculty members, research scholars, project engineers, and technical staff from IIT Kanpur. The project also received technical guidance and support from experts from ISRO and DRDO.

The facility was successfully established and tested in February 2024. The first test was conducted using a blunt cone model at a Mach number of 6.5 and a Reynolds number of 1.2 million. The test results showed good agreement with the theoretical predictions and validated the performance of the facility. The facility is now ready for conducting more tests with different models and flow conditions.

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