After the much-talked about Mars mission (Mangalyaan), India’s interplanetary space research takes another step with the maiden launch of a reusable space shuttle.
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) grabs global attention as it successfully flight tested the country’s first ‘Reusable Launch Vehicle’ (RLV) in Hyderabad on Monday. The demonstration of this innovative winged-body space shuttle was carried out at Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC), Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. Although the full fledged space vehicle is still a decade away from reality, the 13 anxious minutes of this RLV demonstration was truly accomplishment for the Indian space research.
In this experimental mission, the HS9 solid rocket booster carrying RLV-TD lifted off from the First Launch Pad at SDSC at 07:00 hr IST. After a successful flight of 91.1 seconds, HS9 burn out occurred, following which both HS9 and RLV-TD mounted on its top coasted to a height of about 56 km. At that height, RLV-TD separated from HS9 booster and further ascended to a height of about 65 kilometres – ISRO announced.
The President of India Pranab Mukherjee congratulated the Indian space research team for carrying out the maiden RLV launch from his official twitter handle.
Hearty congratulations to our space scientists at ISRO on successful launch of India’s first-ever indigenous space shuttle RLV-TD
— President of India (@RashtrapatiBhvn) May 23, 2016
Primary targets achieved
The RLV-TD began its descent followed by atmospheric re-entry at around Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound), added ISRO. The vehicle’s Navigation, Guidance and Control system accurately steered the vehicle during this phase for safe descent. After successfully surviving high temperatures of re-entry with the help of its Thermal Protection System (TPS), RLV-TD glided down to the defined landing spot over Bay of Bengal, at a distance of about 450 kilometres from Sriharikota, thereby fulfilling its mission objectives. The vehicle was tracked during its flight from ground stations at Sriharikota and a ship-borne terminal. Total flight duration from launch to landing of this mission of the delta winged RLV-TD, lasted for about 770 seconds.
The experiment validated critical technologies such as autonomous navigation, guidance & control, reusable thermal protection system and re-entry mission management.
Future of space mission
The RLV demonstration can be assumed as the replacement of ISRO’s usual launch rocket, Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). The PSLVs are expendable launch vehicles as these multi-stage rockets burns out after propelling the satellite in the space. Therefore, ISRO had to make a new PSLV every time they want to launch a satellite. The experiment also reinstates the faith in ‘Make in India’ campaign encouraged by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While the government invested INR 950 million in the RLV-TD project, the full fledged reusable space vehicles will technically bring down the cost of access to space by 10 times.
Watch the RLV-TD video captured from Bhuvan visualisation application during the launch; courtesy: ISRO.
After NASA abandoned its reusable space shuttle project in 2011, this test-launch can be considered a significant step in India’s space endeavour. Russia, Japan and the European Space Agency are also developing a similar technology and are in testing stages.
Billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Amazon owner Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin have already successfully undertaken their own test launches. SpaceX tested its powerful Falcon 9 rocket in December while Blue Origin’s New Shepard successfully completed a third launch and vertical landing in April this year.