On May 23, India has tested its robotic space shuttle as part of a program for developing an orbital launch system in the country. The reusable shuttle has accomplished its take off as well as its landing on the very first try.

After its successful first try with the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) in 2014, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) successfully flight-tested its space shuttle called Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD). NASA and Roscosmos, the Russian space science program, failed on their first similar launch. The project has, thus, placed the Indian agency on first in shuttle’s flight-test launches.

The RLV-TD was launched by the HS9 booster on Monday morning from Satish Dhawan Space Center, located on Sriharikota Island, an east region of Indian coast. The reusable vehicle carried no crew

On May 23, India has tested its robotic space shuttle as part of a program for developing an orbital launch system in the country. Photo credit: Engadget
On May 23, India has tested its robotic space shuttle as part of a program for developing an orbital launch system in the country. Photo credit: Engadget

The 6.5-meter long shuttle blast off at 7.00 a.m. carried out by a solid HS9 booster, which fired for 90 seconds, after getting to a maximum altitude of 65 kilometers, RLV-TD separated from HS9 and it started its descent flight. When re-entering to the atmosphere, the shuttle hit with a 5-time the speed of sound, which usually known as Mach 5. Finally, the spacecraft splashed down during a simulated landing in the Bay of Bengal, at a 450-kilometer distance spot from the Space Center. According to ISRO’s officials, the flight-test lasted 770 seconds in a successfully completed mission.

During the phase of descent, vehicle’s navigation, guidance and control system managed with precision for a safe return to Earth. Regarding high temperatures of this phase, the Thermal Protection System (TPS) was useful in order to avoid possible engine fires, a very common fact in space trips. All technologies provided in RLV-TD were crucial to the success of the mission, but, it was not only a matter of accomplishing a mission with the reusable shuttle, it was also a test to validate its functioning system.

In a statement published on Monday morning, ISRO’s officials said that during the flight-test, some aspects related to shuttle’s technologies were evaluated: In this flight, critical technologies such as autonomous navigation, guidance & control, reusable thermal protection system and re-entry mission management have been successfully validated.

The experimental mission used a reusable vehicle with the aim of reducing costs of trips to space. During five years, 600 researchers developed the test shuttle at a cost of 9.7 million. However, the shuttle’s final version will take some time and more tests before getting ready for actual space missions.

On twitter, Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, congratulated ISRO on its successful flight-test and gave credit for the efforts made by the agency and the researchers who were committed to the project. Also, Modi stated that such achievement regarding space robotic prototypes is inspiring and remarkable.

Three more launches left for RLV-TD

As part of the test program of RLV-TD, there are 3 more launches left. During the first one, the shuttle will be dropped from a plane to land right in an aircraft runway. In the second one, there will be a launch of a rocket and the landing will be done with an airplane. Finally, once two former launches turned out well, the third flight-test will be done using a scramjet. The RLV-TD will be placed in the air breathing jet engine to be carried out in similar re-entry speeds for its landing.

After these three more test launches, the results will be applied in the final robotic prototype of the shuttle. If test program shows successful outcomes, the real reusable spacecraft will accomplish one of the country’s ambitious projects; a low-cost space technology. Usually, when space shuttles splash down into the ocean, as part of the landing phase, disintegrate in the atmosphere, which means that a new vehicle must be rebuilt for future flights. ISRO’s space prototype will dramatically reduce costs in terms of vehicle’s structural construction.

Future orbital launch system

One of India’s goals regarding science is a development of orbital launch system. For a while, India has presented several robotic space plans as part of its goals in this domain. As compared with former space missions, as those carried out by NASA, Soviet Union, Reaction Engines Ltd (a British company) among others, the Indian prototype shares similar features with those that have had success in the past. It is not just about size or tons, characteristics that meet the requirements for flights in space, but also the technology that has to be implemented in the shuttle.

Source: Indian Space Research Organisation