India Successfully Tests Reusable Space Vehicle

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launched a winged spacecraft 65 kilometres up into the sky, on Monday, May 23, before redirecting it back into the Bay of Bengal.

RLV-TD at the FIrst Launch Pad. Photo credits: ISRO.
RLV-TD at the First Launch Pad. Photo credits: ISRO.

The mission of launching the vehicle and bringing it back on land took a mere 13 minutes. And, no, the spacecraft did not reach space. However, this is deemed a crucial step for the space agency to have made, paving the way to more launches.

The device used for the test is the Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD). ISRO injected $14 million in its making. This was just the first experimental flight for RLV-TD, which consisted of three main phases: hypersonic flight experiment (HEX) followed by the landing experiment (LEX), return flight experiment (REX) and scramjet propulsion experiment (SPEX). The device is meant to be launched for 3 more test drives.

RLV-TD is only 6.7 metres in length – it still has a long way to go in terms of its development. But, the first step is deemed successful enough to boost the ambitions of the ISRO.

For the test performed on Monday, RLV-TD successfully resisted high temperatures as technologies like reusable thermal protection system and autonomous navigation were tested through its launch.

India has been investing in space technology for some years now: its annual budget for these projects amount to $1.2 billion. This is, of course, nothing compared to NASA’s $18.5 billion budget. ISRO is still considered to play an important role in the launch industry. The country’s first commercially-viable reusable vehicle might not see the light of the day any time soon, but, India is working towards reducing the launch costs to remain competitive in the industry.

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