ISRO’s Reusable Launch Vehicle : Explained


A reusable launch system (RLS, or reusable launch vehicle, RLV) is a launch system which is capable of launching a payload into space more than once. This contrasts with expendable launch systems, where each launch vehicle is launched once and then discarded.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is on a new mission to prove India’s place as right up there, in a neck to neck competition with other super powers. The space organization will be testing its first-ever indigenous space shuttle which will add it to the list of the very few nations who have achieved such a feat.

ISRO has built its first testing unit of a space shuttle called Reusable Launch Vehicle – Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD). If successful, the space organization will be able to save millions of capital invested in the following space missions. After the completion of the first phase of trial, the 600-member strong team of engineers and scientists will take another 10 years to use this technology at its full potential.

According to the organization, the massive expenditure on space missions is a major deterrent in space exploration and this new technology, derived from the vision of late Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, will fix the issue.

Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstration Program or RLV-TD is a series of technology demonstration missions that have been considered as a first step towards realizing a Two Stage To Orbit (TSTO) fully re-usable vehicle. A Winged Reusable Launch Vehicle technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD) has been configured to act as a flying test bed to evaluate various technologies, namely, hypersonic flight, autonomous landing, powered cruise flight and hypersonic flight using air-breathing propulsion.

These technologies will be developed in phases through a series of experimental flights. The first in the series of experimental flights is the hypersonic flight experiment (HEX) followed by the landing experiment (LEX), return flight experiment (REX) and scramjet propulsion experiment (SPEX). Reusable Launch Vehicle Technology Demonstrator Hypersonic Experiment (RLV-TD HEX1) wherein the hypersonic aero-thermo dynamic characterization of winged re-entry body along with autonomous mission management to land at a specified location and characterization of hot structures are planned to be demonstrated.


Here are a few facts about India’s first space shuttle, which is in its final stage of preparation:

1. The weight of the space shuttle is as much as an average Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV). The RLV-TD weighs in at 1.75 tons and stands 6.5m tall.

 2. The average cost of delivering a payload in space without a reusable spaceship is around  5000 USD per 1 kg. If the RLV mission succeeds, ISRO will be able to reduce the costs by more than half; the cost will drop down to around 2000 USD per kg.

3. The first launch will take place from India’s space port at Sriharikota on the coast of the Bay of Bengal in Andhra Pradesh.

4. The ISRO team will not be able to recover the shuttle during the test as they will be using a virtual runway and not a real one to land the shuttle. The nation lacks a 5 km runway needed to land the shuttle successfully.

5. If the test is a complete success, the final version of the shuttle will be at least six times bigger that the testing model.

6. While entering the Earth’s atmosphere, the shuttle will cross the speed of sound and hence it is called a hyper sonic experiment (HEX).

7. While re-entering Earth’s orbit, the friction from the air will cause immense heat. To withstand temperatures as high as 5000-7000 degrees Celsius, scientists have developed very lightweight heat resistant silica tile that will be used in the space shuttle.

8. Since the inception of the project, the Indian government has spent 95 crores in the making of this shuttle.

9. The final unit will take around 10-15 years to complete after this demonstration is completed without a glitch.

10. Only a select few nations have attempted to make a space shuttle. USA’s NASA administered the single most successful space shuttle program that lasted from 1981-2011, completing 135 space ventures. Russia’s Buran made a single attempt but was cancelled later. Japan and France have attempted a few testing flights as well.

(Courtesy: Wikipedia, IndiaToday, ISRO)

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