India to launch its reusable spaceplane in May
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has announced that it is on track to launch its first reusable spaceplane as early as May 2016. The Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) is scheduled to conduct maiden flight to evaluate various technologies needed to develop a fully reusable space vehicle.
The RLV is a scaled-down prototype (some 21.3 feet in length or 6.5 meters) of a future uncrewed single-stage reusable spaceplane, known as Avatar, that is being designed by the ISRO.
The May mission will be a technology demonstrator (RLV-TD) to test powered cruise flight, autonomous landing, and hypersonic flight using an air-breathing propulsion system. The spacecraft, which resembles a small winged aircraft, will be launched from the first launch pad of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre to an altitude of 43 miles (70 km) atop a two-stage Rohini sounding rocket and then released. It will re-enter the atmosphere and travel back to Earth in a controlled descent, to be recovered from the Bay of Bengal.
“We want clear weather conditions for the launch. We hope it will happen by first half of May,” said K. Sivan, the Director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Center (VSSC) in Thiruvananthapuram, India.
To be fully prepared for the first flight, the RLV-TD is currently undergoing extensive tests at VSSC.
“It will be transported to Bengaluru next week for acoustic tests before being taken to the Satish Dhawan Space Centre for the launch in May when atmospheric conditions are most favorable,” The launch of the mission was initially planned for the middle of 2015 but was postponed due to technical difficulties.
The spacecraft, which weighs about 1.5 metric tons, will be powered by an air-breathing scramjet. ISRO hopes that this reusable vehicle will cut satellite launch costs from $5,000 to $500 per every 2 lbs. (1 kg).
Currently, a total of four RLV-TD flights are planned by the Indian space agency. The first in the series of experimental flights is the hypersonic flight experiment (HEX), followed by the landing experiment (LEX), the return flight experiment (REX), and the scramjet propulsion experiment (SPEX).
“Development of RLV is a technical challenge and it involves development of cutting edge technologies. The magnitude of cost reduction depends on development and realization of fully reusable launch vehicle and its degree of reusability,” Jitendra Singh, India’s Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, said in March 2015.
The RLV-TD project was started in January of 2012 and is planned to be completed as early as 2025 when the first Avatar spacecraft would take to the skies.
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