Built at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Center in Thiruvananthapuram, the first ever space shuttle from ISRO has successfully completed its maiden flight test today. A 100% made in India effort, the prototype vehicle is 6.5 meter long and weighs 1.75 tonnes, about the size and weight of a 7 seater SUV on sale in India.
Project RLV-TD or Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator is the result of hard work of over 600 scientists at ISRO. The entire project cost is estimated at just INR 95 crores, which is a fraction of the cost what other countries have spent on similar projects in the past.
Speaking about today’s flight, the RLV-TD was launched into flight atop a 9 tonne rocket engine. This rocket engine has been specifically designed for the take off of RLV-TD. Reason being, this rocket engine burns slowly as compared to others, which helps in smooth vertical take off of a winged body (RLV-TD).
Post take-off, the engine took the RLV-TD space shuttle to an altitude of 70 kms. Post which, it engaged in a free glide towards earth. During its journey back to earth, RLV-TD tackled speeds of 5 Mach (5 times the speed of sound), before it finally landed some 500 kms from Sriharikota, in the Bay of Bengal.
Space shuttle plays a very important role in space exploration. Its biggest advantage is that it can be reused. This brings down the cost of space travel by as much as 10 times. ISRO’s RLV-TD is the first step towards that aim.
Over the next few years, ISRO plans on testing at least two more such prototypes before they launch their actual space shuttle. This will be six times larger in size and will weigh 40 tonnes. That project is expected to go LIVE in 2030.
As of now, no other country in the world has winged space craft in its fleet. US retired theirs in 2011, while USSR used them only ones in 1989. So in terms of competition, RLV-TD could compete with the likes of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 or Blue Origin’s New Shephard rocket, both of which have partially tested re-usable space shuttles.