NEW DELHI (Diya TV) — India this week has launched an unmanned model spacecraft, joining in efforts to develop the world’s next reusable craft since NASA suspended the Space Shuttle program in 2011.
The 7m-scale model lifted off from Andhra Pradesh at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, and was expected to fly about 50 miles into the atmosphere before making its return at sea. There has been a strong international competition to develop the world’s next alternative reusable spacecraft, as such vehicles could significantly cut the cost of space exploration.
India has for some time been investing considerably into its space program, allocating substantial research and resources into the program. This vehicle, fittingly named Reusable Launch Vehicle, or RLV-TD, cost $14 million to develop.
“RLV-TD began its descent followed by atmospheric re-entry at around Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound),” the Indian Space Research Organization said in a statement.
It also said the vehicle’s thermal coating, navigation and guidance and control systems performed as planned and accurately steered the shuttle.
“After successfully surviving the high temperatures of re-entry, RLV-TD successfully glided down to the defined landing spot over Bay of Bengal, at a distance of about 450km from Sriharikota,” it said.
The craft was brought to land at sea since India does not currently have a runway long enough for land use. A soft sea landing was determined to be the safest option for the test.
“The wings are very small, so it’s still going to be a very huge challenge to land it on a runway and therefore we are landing it straight back on the ocean,” Rajeswari P Rajagopalan, the head of the independent think-tank Nuclear and Space Policy Initiative at the Observer Research Foundation said.
As the program continues to evolve, India has future plans to develop a supersonic scramjet engine into the craft, which would give the vehicle a more effective range and the ability to manoeuvre in space. India does not expect its craft to come into use for at least 15 years, but ISRO hopes the reusable technology will reduce costs and make access to space more affordable.
“At the end of the day, the mission’s objective is to reduce the cost of space launches, for human space missions as well,” said Rajagopalan.