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Made in India Space Shuttle Ready for Launch
May 19, 2016

For the very first time in its history, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is actually growing wings as it embarks near future on a never before space flight that would make history.

Very soon and if all goes well possibly before the monsoon sets in, India's space port at Sriharikota on the coast of the Bay of Bengal in Andhra Pradesh will witness the launch of the indigenously made Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD).

Salient Features & Key Points

  • The Indian space agency is all set to undertake the maiden launch of its very own indigenously version of a 'space shuttle', a fully made-in-India effort.

  • A sleek winged body almost the weight and size of a Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) is being given final touches at Sriharikota awaiting the final countdown.

  • The big powers abandoned the idea of a winged reusable launch vehicle but India's frugal engineers believe the solution to reducing cost of launching satellites into orbit is to recycle the rocket or make it reusable.

  • Scientists at ISRO believe that they could reduce the cost of launching stuff into space by as much as 10 times if reusable technology succeeds, bringing it down to $2,000 per kg.

  • This will be the first time ISRO will launch a space craft, which actually has delta wings and after launch it will be glided back onto a virtual runway in the Bay of Bengal.

  • The RLV-TD is unlikely to be recovered from sea during this experiment as it is expected that the vehicle will disintegrate on impact with water since it is not designed to float.

  • The purpose of the experiment is not to see it float but to glide and navigate from a velocity five times higher than the speed of sound onto a designated virtual runway in the Bay of Bengal some 500 km from the coast.

  • Very similar in its looks to the American space shuttle, the RLV-TD being experimented is a scale model which is almost 6 times smaller than the final version.

  • The only countries that have attempted operational flights of a space shuttle are America, which flew its space shuttle 135 times and then retired it in 2011 and since then it lost its capacity to send astronauts in space on American made rockets.

  • The Russians made only a single space shuttle and called it Buran it flew into space just once in 1989.

  • After that the French and Japanese have made some experimental flights and from available literature it seems the Chinese have never attempted a space shuttle.

India embarked on making its own version of the space shuttle by thinking about it more than 15 years ago, but work in earnest it seems started only five years ago when a dedicated team of engineers and scientists plunged into making RLV-TD a reality.

  • The 6.5-m-long aeroplane-like spacecraft will weigh 1.75 tons and will be hoisted into the atmosphere on a special rocket booster.

  • The special booster or the first stage is powered using a solid fuel and it will hoist the RLV-TD experiment to about 70 km into the atmosphere from where the descent will begin.

  • During the descent phase, which is essentially a glider like event, small thrusters will help the vehicle to be navigated on to the exact spot where it is supposed to land.

  • Ships, satellites and radars will monitor its descent.

  • The current experimental version has no undercarriage so it cannot be brought back onto land and India lacks a runway that is longer than 5 km in length to accommodate such a landing.

  • Later, in the next few flights the RLV will be subjected to a landing experiment and another return flight experiment. Once these are successful, ISRO will then decide on what should be the final configuration of the Reusable Launch Vehicle.

  • One key technology the scientists had to develop was to make materials that can withstand the very very high temperatures that the exterior of the vehicle is faced with as it comes back into the dense atmosphere after its journey through near vacuum in space.

  • The friction from the air turns the exterior like a red-hot iron plate. To be able to withstand these 5000-7000 degrees Celsius temperature the scientists have developed very lightweight heat resistant silica tiles that are plastered on the underbelly of the so-called Indian space plane.

  • The nose cone takes the brunt of the high temperatures and is made up of a special carbon-carbon composite that can withstand high temperature.

  • These special materials are necessary to protect the insides of the vehicle where the temperature should never go higher than 50 degrees Celsius.


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