Indian Space Research Organisation is preparing for the test flight of the Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) on 23 May. So far only US, Russia, France and Japan have successfully launched space shuttle. With this indigenous initiative, India will be joining this elite group.
The RLV-TD (Reusable Launch Vehicle - Technology Development) took five years to be built, at a cost of just Rs 95 crore. The launch is only a technology demonstrator using a model shuttle, which is one-sixth the size of the planned shuttle. The experimental space shuttle that is going to be launched from the space port at Sriharikota, is expected to return to the Bay of Bengal. However, it is unlikely to be recovered from the sea as it is expected to be destroyed on impact with water. The purpose of the experiment is to see whether it can glide and navigate at a velocity which would be five times faster than sound, onto a virtual runway.
Visually, the RLV-TD is a rocket-aircraft combination measuring about 17 m, whose first stage is a solid propellant booster rocket and the second stage is a 6.5 m long aircraft-like winged structure sitting atop the rocket.
In RLV-TD that is awaiting launch at SHAR, the first stage, weighing about 9 tonnes, is merely the Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-3) flown in the 1980s.
The vehicle will take off like a rocket and the RLV will be taken to a height of 70 km and where the booster will release the vehicle to carry out its manoeuvres then return to Earth so scientists can see how it behaves as it re-enters the atmosphere.
If the mission is successful, it would represent a breakthrough for India’s low-cost space-exploration program. But it would still take a long time to develop a working space shuttle.