India launched its maiden indigenous winged Reusable Launch Vehicle, RLV from Sriharikota spaceport in Andhra Pradesh today.
The RLV Technology Demonstration (RLV-TD), that is ultimately aimed at putting satellites into orbit around earth and then re-enter atmosphere, was carried up on a solid rocket motor.
The nine-metre long rocket weighs 11 tonnes. Very similar in its looks to the US space shuttle, the double delta-winged RLV-TD being experimented is a scale model which is almost 6 times smaller than the final version.
The 6.5 m long aeroplane like structure weighs 1.75 tonnes and was hoisted into the atmosphere on the special rocket booster. After launching from the Sriharikota spaceport, it would be glided back onto a virtual runway in the Bay of Bengal.
The vehicle would re-enter the atmosphere after reaching a height of over 70 km.
Re-usable technology aims to help reduce the cost of launching objects into space by 10 times. It costs about $ 20,000 to send a kilogram in space currently.
Indian Space Research Organization or 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.
After the test flight was declared successful, 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.”
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.
The mission is known as the hypersonic flight experiment and is expected to last about 10 minutes.
In a race to master re-usable technology for space shuttles, the RLV the likes of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Blue Origin’s New Shephard rocket – both the companies have already partially tested re-usable space shuttles.
Explaining the importance of the experimental RLV, Indian Space Research Organisation, ISRO Chairman Kiran Kumar said it is essentially an attempt by India to bring down the cost of making infrastructure in space.