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Isro to flight-test reusable launch vehicle technology

04 March 2015

Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) is working on developing the technology for a winged rocket that can be used repeatedly and the first test flight of reusable launch vehicle - technology demonstrator (RLV-TD) - is likely by the second quarter of 2015.

Reusable vehicles will bring down the cost of satellite launches by doing away with expensive rockets, which disintegrate in phases en route to space.

The technology demonstrator, a winged body vehicle weighing 1.5 tonnes, will be lofted to a height of 70 km using solid booster, thus attaining 5 times the speed of sound. Thereafter it will descend by gliding and splashing down into the sea.

This test flight would demonstrate the vehicle's hypersonic aerodynamic characteristics, avionics system, thermal protection system, control system and mission management.

For a reusable launch vehicle, the weight of the structure that makes a rocket has to be contained at a mere two per cent of the overall weight with the propellant accounting for 98 per cent.

Currently available technology does not allow launch vehicles to go below 5 to 10 per cent mass of the structure and around 90 per cent propellant weight, according to S Somanath, associate director of Isro's Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC).

''Development of reusable launch vehicles is a technical challenge and it involves development of many cutting edge technologies. The magnitude of cost reduction depends on development and realisation of fully reusable launch vehicle and its degree of reusability,'' an official release from the Department of Space said.

Simultaneously, Isro has also taken steps to develop next generation launch vehicle GSLV Mk III, capable of launching 4 tonne class communication satellites to geo-synchronous transfer orbit, which would bring down the cost of satellite launches, the release quoted minister of state for personnel, public grievances and pensions in the PMO, Jitendra Singh as saying in the Lok Sabha today.

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