India's first step in space shuttle race

doi:10.1038/nindia.2016.65 Published online 24 May 2016

The RLV technology demonstrator lifts off


In the quest to make access to space cheaper, India successfully flight tested a scale model of its own version of reusable space shuttle from Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, off the southeastern coast, on May 23, 2016.

Weighing 1.5 tons, about one-sixth the actual size, the "technology demonstrator" resembling a small winged aircraft, was carried on a solid booster rocket to a height of 65 km. From there it began its descent re-entering the atmosphere at five times the speed of sound to land at a pre-determined spot in the Bay of Bengal. 

"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," the Indian Space Research Organization ISRO said.

This is the first of four test flights planned for validating technologies like autonomous landing on land, powered cruise flight, and hypersonic flight using air-breathing propulsion. to be employed in the Reusable launch Vehicle (RLV) that ISRO hopes to develop in 10 years. "We still have a long way to go till we reach the actual RLV," ISRO chairman A.S.Kiran Kumar had told reporters before the Monday launch.

The Rs.950 million ($14 million) program was conceived by ISRO in 2009. The first test was planned for 2011 but got postponed several times.