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Indigenous technology demonstrator of reusable launch vehicle tested successfully

CHENNAI,T.S. SUBRAMANIAN:India on Monday successfully launched the first technology demonstrator of indigenously made Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV), capable of launching satellites into orbit around earth and reentering the atmosphere, from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh.

The RLV-TD blasts off from Sriharikota on Monday. Photo: V. Ganesan

A booster rocket with the RLV-TD lifted up at 7 a.m. from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, and the launch vehicle separated from it at an altitude of 50 km.

The RLV-TD or winged space plane then climed to another 20 km and began its descent. It re-entered to earth’s atmosphere at an hypersonic speed of more than 5 Mach and touched down the Bay of Bengal between Chennai and the Andaman archipelago.

Known as hypersonic flight experiment, it was a 10-minute mission from liftoff to splashdown.

An ISRO spokesman said the mission was accomplished successfully. “Everything went according to the projectory, he said adding that the winged space plane would not be recovered from the sea.

This successful experiment of ISRO is only a very preliminary step towards developing reusable launch vehicles.

Several flights of RLV-TD will have to be undertaken before it really becomes a reusable launch system to put satellites into orbit.

M.C. Dathan, former director, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuram, said: “The mission was successful. And the RLV-TD is healthy and floating on the sea.”

RLV, being dubbed as India’s own space shuttle, is the unanimous solution to achieve low cost, reliable and on-demand space access, according to ISRO scientists.

RLV-TD is a series of technology demonstration missions that have been considered as a first step towards realising a Two Stage To Orbit (TSTO) fully re-usable vehicle, ISRO said.

It has been configured to act as a flying testbed to evaluate various technologies, including hypersonic flight, autonomous landing, powered cruise flight and hypersonic flight using air-breathing propulsion, it said.

All you need to know about the project

» India’s space port at Sriharikota on the coast of the Bay of Bengal in Andhra Pradesh will witness the launch of the indigenously made Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD). After the launch, it will be glide back onto a virtual runway in the Bay of Bengal.
» The RLV-TD is unlikely to be recovered from sea during this experiment as it is expected that the vehicle will disintegrate on impact with water since it is not designed to float.
» The purpose of the experiment is to help the shuttle glide over a virtual runway in the Bay of Bengal, situated 500 km from the coast.
» India’s frugal engineers believe the solution to reducing cost of launching satellites into orbit is to recycle the rocket or make it reusable.
» Scientists at ISRO believe that they could reduce the cost by as much as 10 times if reusable technology succeeds, bringing it down to $2,000 per kg.
» K. Sivan, director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuram, says, “These are just the first baby steps towards the big Hanuman leap.”
» The final version will take at least 10-15 years to get ready.
» The special booster or the first stage is powered using a solid fuel and it will hoist the RLV-TD prototype to about 70 km into the atmosphere from where the descent will begin.
» During the descent phase, small thrusters will help the vehicle navigate itself to the landing area.
» The making of the Indian space shuttle or RLV-TD has taken five years and the government has invested Rs. 95 crore in the project. This flight will test the capability of the vehicle to survive a re-entry at speeds higher than that of sound.