India To Launch First Reusable Indigenous Space Shuttle Tomorrow

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Chennai: In a significant step towards developing a full-fledged reusable launch vehicle, Indian Space Research Organisation will boost a sleek winged prototype through a short test flight on Monday. The first such flight, which will be a technology demonstrator, will be launched from Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota.

The idea to develop a vehicle with delta wings and angled tail fins is to fly into space, inject an orbiter and land on earth like an aircraft, so it can be reused. This will help cut cost of satellite launches by upto 10 times. An advanced version of the vehicle could also be used for manned missions.

In the hypersonic test flight, the vehicle fitted with a solid strap-on thruster will take off vertically like a rocket at five times the speed of sound (Mach 5) to reach an altitude of 70km. After ascent, the vehicle will manoeuvre and take a 180 degree turn before re-entry.

But on its descent, it will have a controlled splashdown in the Bay of Bengal instead of an aircraft-like landing, which will be tested subsequently. The entire test flight will take about 10 minutes.

Director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, K Sivan said it will take at least a decade to have a full-scale reusable launcher, which will land like an aircraft and can be recovered and reused.

However, the first test flight will be a flying test bed to evaluate three of the basic technologies involved in the development of the vehicle. It will include aero-thermo dynamic characterization of the winged re-entry body, its autonomous mission management to land at a specified location and its hot structures or the heat shield that will protect the vehicles in high temperatures.

“At around 45km, the boosters will separate and fall in Bay of Bengal, while the vehicle moves ahead to reach 70km before it glides down,” he said. “It is only a dummy, so we will not recover the vehicle.” The first flight model weighing 1.7tons took about six years to be built and is about five times smaller than the operational reusable launch vehicle. The operational vehicle will have two stages, carry air-breathing engines and have conventional rocket thrusters.

India’s first test flight for a reusable launch vehicle comes about six years after Nasa grounded its reusbale launch shuttle in 2011.

TNN