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What is Cryogenic Technology? Know about ISRO's biggest cryogenic propellant tank from HAL

Tulika Tandon

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has delivered the biggest cryogenic propellant tank (C32 LH2) made by it to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) recently. The delivery was made way ahead of the contractual schedule at a program held in Bengaluru, Karnataka. Take a look at the details of cryogenic technology, its uses and historical facts below. 

What does Cryogenic mean?

Cryogenic means low temperature. The word itself refers to the technology of sub-zero temperatures. Cryogenic engines use liquid oxygen as the oxidizer and liquid hydrogen as the fuel. As it is known Oxygen can be kept in the liquid state below – 183 degrees Celcius, while hydrogen requires temperature below – 253 degree Celcius to be in liquid form. Since liquid oxygen is extremely reactive and combustible it can be used as a propellant to carry heavy loads.

Fundamentals of Cryogenic Technology

It is the study of production and behaviour of materials at extremely low temperatures that is below 150 degrees. It is useful for lifting things in space, storing medicines and drugs at low temperatures etc. It is used in the last stage of speed launch vehicles, SPVs. It also states that the cryogenic stage is the liquid propellant stage or solid propellant stage at extremely low temperatures.

ISRO’s biggest cryogenic propellant tank- Details

The C32-LH2 tank is a developmental cryogenic propellant tank made of aluminium alloy that has been basically designed for improving the payload capability of GSLV MK-III launching vehicle.

The propellant tank was handed over to ISRO  in the presence of S Somanath, Director (VSSC) with other senior scientists from ISRO, participating in virtual mode and other senior officials of HAL.

The four-meter diametric tank is of 8-meter length to load 5755 kg propellant in the 89 cubic meter volume. The total length of weld carried out in the tank was 115 meter at different stages to the quality requirement of 100 per cent tests on radiography, die penetrant check and leak- proof. 

Why is Cryogenic Technology important for India?

Listed below are a few points that elaborate on the need for cryogenic technology and its advantages for India-

  1. Crucial for the advancement of the Space programme – Cryogenic Engine is used by ISRO for its GSLV Programme
  2. Lighter weight - High energy per unit mass is released which makes it economical
  3. Missile Programme for the Defense- Cryogenic technology is useful for the development of futuristic rocket engines
  4. Clean technology - Cryogenic technology uses Hydrogen and oxygen as fuel and releases water as a by-product. This is one of its greatest achievements as no pollution is caused by its use
  5. India rises as a Space power- Earlier India was refused to be helped with technology by other countries. Only the US, Japan, France, Russia & China had this technology. Now India stands neck to neck with them
  6. Other uses of cryotechnology are in blood banks, food storage etc.

How did India obtain Cryogenic Technology?

It was because of the Russians that India managed developing its own cryogenic technology. Under Mikhail Gorbachev, Glavkosmos, the Soviet Union space agency, agreed to transfer cryogenic engines and technology to ISRO in 1991. Back then very few countries had access to cryogenics. Those who did guard it with all their might.

The US, Europe, Japan and China were completely averse to sharing technology. The Russians then made an exception for India. India and USSR said cryogenic technology was strictly for non-military uses. It was said to be used only for communication and weather satellites.

The US did not believe them. In 1991, the US invoked the Missile Technology Control Regime, MTCR, an association to stop the proliferation of missiles that could be used for mass destruction, to impose sanctions on the Soviet and Indian space agencies.

Soon after, the Soviet Union disintegrated and the new government under Boris Yeltsin took control. The new government favoured the West. In 1993 Yeltsin arrived at a compromise after he met Bill Clinton in 1993 that Russia would not transfer the technology, but it would sell seven cryogenic engines to India. 

India decided to fight back by developing its own cryogenic technology. India then fought back by developing its own cryogenic technology. Indian scientists conducted the first successful cryogenic engine test in the year 2003 and the first successful flight was conducted in 2014.

Way forward

Various new projects like PS2/GS2 integration, Semi-Cryo structure fabrication and manufacture of cryo & semi cryo engines are being taken up at HAL, for which setting up of necessary infrastructure & facilities is nearing completion. The government is expected to frame the policies supportive of science and technological research as India is being eyed as a space power in the years to come. 


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