The making of India’s Space Shuttle: The inside story
In an unassuming hangar near a fishing village in Kerala in southern India, the efforts of more than 600 scientists over the last five years have converged together to provide India with one of the nation’s most notable efforts in its space exploration efforts. It was there that India’s very own space shuttle, dubbed the Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV), was conceived and nurtured by the Indian Space Research Organisation or ISRO.
The project began more than a decade ago at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Thiruvananthapuram – India’s main rocket designing and fabrication laboratory.
The 21-foot (6.5-meter) long scale model of the re-usable launch vehicle weighs about 1.75 metric tons and has been made at a cost of $14.6 million. Built as a technology demonstrator, ISRO plans to test two more such prototypes before the flying the final version, which will be about six times larger at around 131 feet (40 meters) long. If everything goes as planned, the first flight will take off around 2030.
Shyam Mohan, project director on the RLV, said his team has spent endless hours over the years trying to make sure that all systems work perfectly. Mohan, 53, who has spent three decades at ISRO, said he was chosen to design the RLV for India 15 years ago.
“It was a dream come true as making a re-usable launch vehicle is a complex and challenging task,” Mohan said.
The U.S. successfully flew their fleet of space shuttles 133 times until they were retired in 2011 over cost constraints, and the Russians flew their shuttle only once in 1989.
“These are just the first baby steps toward the big Hanuman leap,” said K Sivan, director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuram.
The RLV-TD was launched from Sriharikota on the coast of the Bay of Bengal in Andhra Pradesh at 7 a.m. local time (01:30 GMT) on May 23, 2016.
The spacecraft was launched atop a nine-ton solid rocket motor that has been designed to burn slowly to accommodate the vertical lifting of a winged body.
After the launch, the Indian shuttle flew to an altitude of about 43 miles (70 kilometers) and then engaged in a free-gliding flight that started with an initial velocity five times that of sound. It then landed on a stretch of water in the Bay of Bengal some 311 miles (500 kilometers) from Sriharikota.
On this first flight, the RLV-TD was not recovered but the data collected will be used to improve the designs, paving the way for the final model.
This article was written by Pallava Bagla and first appeared on Space Safety Magazine
Video courtesy of NDTV
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