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All you need to know about DRDO’s successful flight test of Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV)

With today's test, DRDO has proven its position in several critical technologies, including aerodynamic configuration for hypersonic manoeuvres, use of scramjet propulsion for ignition and sustained combustion at hypersonic flow, thermo-structural characterization of high-temperature materials, separation mechanism at hypersonic velocities, etc.

India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has successfully demonstrated the hypersonic air-breathing scramjet technology with the flight test of the Hypersonic Technology Demonstration Vehicle (HSTDV). The test was done at 11:03 AM from Dr Abdul Kalam Island off the coast of Odisha on 7th September.

According to the press release by the Ministry of Defence, the hypersonic cruise vehicle was launched using a proven solid rocket motor. It reached the altitude of 30 KM, where the aerodynamic heat shields were separated at hypersonic Mach number. The cruise vehicle was separated from the launch vehicle, and the air intake opened as planned.

The cruise vehicle moved on its desired flight path at six times the speed of sound that is, 02 km/second, for more than 20 seconds. Several critical events, such as fuel injection and auto-ignition of the scramjet demonstrated advancements DRDO has achieved in the said technology. The officials said that the scramjet engine performed in a textbook precision.

Mission was successful

Multiple tracking radars, electro-optical systems, and Telemetry Stations monitored the launch and cruise vehicle parameters, including scramjet engine. A ship was also deployed in the Bay of Bengal to monitor the system’s performance during the cruise phase of the hypersonic vehicle. The performance parameters indicated the success of the mission.

With this successful demonstration, DRDO has proven its position in several critical technologies, including aerodynamic configuration for hypersonic manoeuvres, use of scramjet propulsion for ignition and sustained combustion at hypersonic flow, thermo-structural characterization of high-temperature materials, separation mechanism at hypersonic velocities, etc.

Statement of Raksha Mantri Rajnath Singh

Raksha Mantri Rajnath Singh congratulated DRDO on the landmark achievement. In a tweet, he said, “I congratulate to DRDO on this landmark achievement towards realizing PM’s vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat. I spoke to the scientists associated with the project and congratulated them on this great achievement. India is proud of them.”

Statement of DRDO Chairman

Dr G Satheesh Reddy, Secretary, Department of Defence R&D and Chairman DRDO congratulated all the scientists, researchers, and other personnel involved in the HSTDV mission. In a video statement, he said that this mission would pave the way for many more critical technologies, materials, and hypersonic vehicle development. “This puts India in a select set of nations, who have demonstrated this technology,” he added.

What is a Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV)

HSTDV is an unmanned scramjet demonstration aircraft that can achieve velocity greater than five times the speed of sound or Mach-5 (3800 miles per hour) or 6115 KM per hour. In the successful mission on Monday, the test flight achieved the speed 6-times greater than the speed of sound or Mach-6.

HSTDC has an air-breathing scramjet engine. It uses atmospheric oxygen that is available up to 50 KM above the earth’s surface to burn the fuel on-board. Thus, the overall vehicle is lighter in weight and more efficient, making it cost-effective. HSTDV cruise vehicle is mounted on a solid rocket motor. Once it achieves a certain velocity, the cruise vehicle gets ejected out of the launch vehicle and the scramjet engine gets ignited automatically.

Graphic representation of how HSTDV flight maneuver works (Image: DRDO)

The technology is crucial for the country as it has put India in the elite group of a handful of nations who have successfully tested it. The other countries with this technology are the US, Russia, and China.

Defence and civilian applications

HSTDV will be used as a vehicle for hypersonic and long-range cruise missiles. The system is capable of delivering nuclear or conventional payload within minutes at the target. While ballistic missiles travel at a pre-defined path, HSTDV has maneuvering capabilities that make them harder to counter. The high velocity combined with low altitude makes it harder to detect. 

HSTDV has civilian applications as well. It can be used by space agencies to launch small satellites into the orbit at a low cost. It is also a crucial technology required to develop reusable launch vehicles.

Importance of HSTDV for India

The HSTDV India successfully tested on 7th September is based on an indigenously developed scramjet propulsion system. According to ISRO, a scramjet engine is an improvement over the ramjet engine as it efficiently operates at hypersonic speeds and allows supersonic combustion. While ramjet engine can achieve the velocity of Mach-3 or 3-times the speed of sound, HSTDV tested by DRDO on Monday achieved double the speed.

HSTDV development timeline

  • In 2004, DRDO completed the design for the airframe attached to the engine.
  • In 2008, while talking about the development of the hypersonic missile, Former DRDO Chief VK Saraswat said, “Through the HSTDV project, the idea was to demonstrate the performance of a scram-jet engine at an altitude of 15 km to 20 km, is on.” He further added, “Under this project, we are developing a hypersonic vehicle that will be powered by a scramjet engine. This is a dual-use technology, which, when developed, will have multiple civilian applications. It can be used for launching satellites at low cost. It will also be available for long-range cruise missiles of the future.”
  • In 2016, DRDO announced that it would conduct a test by the year-end, but it got delayed.
  • In June 2019, conducted the maiden test of hypersonic technology demonstrator with partial success. According to the reports, the test failed to meet some of the test parameters.
  • On 7th September 2020, DRDO successfully flights tested Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle.

The reports suggest that Israel and Cranfield University, UK, also assisted in developing the Hypersonic Vehicle. India is reported to have received some help from Russia too.

India’s has also been developing the BrahMos-II hypersonic cruise missiles in a joint venture with Russia.

HSTDV development across the globe

In March 2020, the US said in a statement that they had tested an unarmed prototype of a hypersonic missile. In July 2020, Vladimir Putin, President, Russia, said that the Russian Navy vessels would be armed with hypersonic nuclear strike weapons and underwater nuclear drones. He further added that these weapons are in the final testing phase. China is also pursuing the development of hypersonic weapons aggressively.

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