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RLV-TD, India's first 'space shuttle', successfully launched

Source: PTI
Last updated on: May 23, 2016 15:21 IST
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the launch, saying, “Launch of India’s first indigenous space shuttle RLV-TD is the result of the industrious efforts of our scientists. Congrats to them.”

Taking a step in development of reusable rocket which will drastically cut down cost of access to space, India on Monday successfully flight-tested an indigenous winged Reusable Launch Vehicle, dubbed “swadeshi” space shuttle, from Sriharikota spaceport in Andhra Pradesh.

Lifting off from the launch pad at Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, double delta-winged flight vehicle RLV Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD) was hoisted into the atmosphere on the special rocket booster for a peak altitude of over 65 kilometre and released for its re-entry into the atmosphere before its splashdown in the Bay of Bengal.

From a 65 km altitude, RLV-TD began its descent followed by atmospheric re-entry at around Mach 5 -- five times the speed of sound -- with the vehicle’s Navigation, Guidance and Control system accurately steering it during this phase for safe descent, Indian Space Research Organisation said.

After successfully surviving high temperatures of re-entry with the help of its Thermal Protection System, RLV-TD successfully glided down to the defined landing spot over Bay of Bengal, at a distance of about 450 km from Sriharikota, fulfilling its mission objectives, ISRO said.

The aerospace vehicle with the weight (1.75 tonnes) and is the size of a sports utility vehicle was not recovered as it disintegrated on impact with water since it is not designed to float.

The vehicle was successfully tracked during its flight from ground stations at Sriharikota and a shipborne terminal. Total flight duration from launch to landing lasted about 770 seconds, it said.

The government has invested Rs 95 crore into the RLV-TD project.

The RLV is ultimately aimed at putting satellites into orbit around earth and then re-enter atmosphere with the ultimate goal of drastically slashing down the cost of launches by as much as 10 times.

In this flight, critical technologies such as autonomous navigation, guidance and control, reusable thermal protection system and re-entry mission management have been successfully validated, ISRO said in a statement.

The reduced-scale space plane resembling a US space shuttle was experimented on a model almost six times smaller than the final version.

Hailing the successful mission, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “Launch of India’s first indigenous space shuttle RLV-TD is the result of the industrious efforts of our scientists. Congrats to them.”

“The dynamism and dedication with which our scientists and @isro have worked over the years is exceptional and very inspiring,” the prime minister, now in Iran, said in a tweet.

 The RLV-TD is described as “a very preliminary step” in the development of a reusable rocket, whose final version is expected to take 10-15 years.

This is the first time ISRO has launched a winged flight vehicle.

 ISRO Chairman Kiran Kumar had said earlier that it is essentially an attempt by India to bring down the cost of making infrastructure in space.

If reusable rockets become a reality, the cost of access to space may come down by 10 times, he had said. This is, however, the first of a series of experiments and India still has a long way to go till it reached the actual RLV, according to the ISRO chief.

A kind of a runway like one used for American space shuttles will be made in Sriharikota for landing of RLV. “These are just the first baby steps towards the big Hanuman leap,” K Sivan, Director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuram, had earlier said.

The special booster or the first stage that was powered using a solid fuel, hoisted the RLV-TD prototype to about 65 km into the atmosphere from where the descent began.

During the descent, small thrusters helped the vehicle navigate itself to the landing area.

The Made-in-India effort took five years, with Monday’s flight testing the capability of the vehicle to survive a re-entry at speeds higher than that of sound.

The RLV was designed and assembled at Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvanathapuram, where it underwent basic electrical, hydraulic and ‘sign check’ tests.

The RLV technologies will be developed in phases through a series of experimental flights, the first of which was the hypersonic flight experiment on Monday.

It will be followed by the landing experiment, return flight experiment and scramjet propulsion experiment, according to ISRO.

In the Reusable Launch Vehicle Technology Demonstrator Hypersonic Experiment the hypersonic aero-thermo dynamic characterisation of winged re-entry body along with autonomous mission management to land at a specified location and characterization of hot structures were planned to be demonstrated.

ISRO, in due course, plans to land the winged body vehicle on a runway at Sriharikota.

ISRO acknowledged the support of Indian coast guard and National Institute of Ocean technology for the mid sea wind measurement and shipborne telemetry respectively in this mission.

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