India to launch its first reusable spaceplane in May
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has announced that India is on track to launch its first reusable spaceplane as early as May. The Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) is scheduled to conduct its maiden flight to evaluate various technologies required to develop a fully reusable space vehicle, stated Defence News.
According to The Times Of India, ISRO’s 1.5 tonne spaceplane is slated to make its maiden flight from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota. Officially known as the Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV-TD), it is undergoing final preparations at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Thiruvananthapuram. Its primary role will be to reduce the cost of access to space. The cost of placing 1kg of object in space is about $5,000. Scientists are hoping that this cost will come down to about $500 with the anticipated success of the RLV-TD.
In a report by Tech Times, after launch, the RLV-TD will go up to around 70 kilometers or 43 miles and come back to Earth through the help of a space plane. It is expected to land in the Bay of Bengal. More such test flights have been scheduled thereafter. Upon successful completion of the trial runs, the RLV will finally be used from 2025 onwards.
The Reusable Vehicle-Technology Demonstration Program is a series of missions that will help develop a Two Stage To Orbit (TSTO) fully reusable vehicle. Test flights can help test and evaluate space technologies including hypersonic flight, powered cruise flight, hypersonic flight using air-breathing propulsion and autonomous landing.
The program will include a lot of experiments including hypersonic flight experiment, landing experiment, return flight experiment and the scramjet propulsion experiment. The RLV-TD project was started in January 2012 and now is undergoing flight integration before it is moved to Bengaluru for acoustic testing after which it will be transported to Sriharikota in preparation for the launch.
The most anticipated moment will be the vehicles re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere at five times the speed of sound. An ISRO engineer told The Times Of India, “To prevent the vehicle from getting damaged (due to heat), its nose has been protected by carbon-carbon and there are about 600 heat-resistant tiles placed around the vehicle. These tiles will be able to withstand a temperature to about 1,200 degrees Celsius.”
Interestingly, after its splash down there are no plans to recover it from the bottom of the Bay of Bengal. “We have simulated different scenarios and we know what can happen. But, we have kept other options open. If there is a change of thinking at the last moment, we may seek the help of the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard to recover it,” an ISRO engineer said. ISRO ultimately plans to develop technology to land the shuttle on a runway on re-entry.