More reports on: Space missions

Isro successfully tests reusable space shuttle technology

23 May 2016

The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) today successfully tested a scale model of an India-made reusable launch vehicle, demonstrating indigenous technology capabilities for launching space shuttles.

The first Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD) was successfully flight-tested from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh.

RLV-TD was launched at 7 am. Nearly 20 minutes after its lift-off, the Isro announced, "mission accomplished".

The 6.5 metre-long model of the re-usable launch vehicle weighed about 1.75 tonnes and was made at a cost of Rs 95 crore. It was built at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Thiruvananthapuram by a team of 600 scientists over a five-year period.

Re-usable technology can reduce the cost of launching objects into space by 10 times. It costs about $20,000 to send a kg in space currently.

Isro plans to test two more such prototypes before the final version, which will be about six times larger at around 40 metres and will take off around 2030.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated scientists at Isro and tweeted: ''Launch of India's first indigenous space shuttle RLV-TD is the result of the industrious efforts of our scientists. Congrats to them.''

The spacecraft was launched atop a nine-ton rocket engine that has been designed to burn slowly to accommodate vertical lifting of a winged body.

After the launch, the space shuttle flew to an altitude of 70 kilometreskm and then engaged in a free-gliding flight that started with an initial velocity five times that of sound. It then landed on a stretch of water in the Bay of Bengal some 500 kilometreskm from Sriharikota.

This was the first time that Isro flew a winged body and brought it back to land on a make-shift runway. In further tests, an undercarriage will be placed to make it land, possibly at Sriharikota.

The final RLV will be about 40 meters in length and will also be able to carry Indian astronauts. On this first flight, the RLV-TD will not be recovered but the data collected will be used to improve the designs, paving the runway to the final model.

No other country is currently operationally flying a winged spacecraft into space - the US retired its space shuttles in 2011 and the Russians flew theirs only once in 1989.

Isro's re-usable technology for space shuttles will compete with SpaceX's Falcon 9 and Blue Origin's New Shephard rocket that have already partially tested re-usable space shuttles.

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