India’s mini space shuttle returns to Earth after successful test

23 May 2016

The RLV-TD craft prepared during take-off. Image via ISRO

India’s burgeoning space programme has had another major achievement, with the successful launch of its first miniaturised space shuttle, with hopes of sending astronauts into space using a bigger, reusable craft.

News of the successful mini-space-shuttle launch from New Delhi was confirmed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), which is aiming to once again bring reusable crewed craft to space following the ending of the NASA space shuttle programme back in 2011.

Simply called the Reusable Launch Vehicle or RLV-TD, the first test craft launched from the south-eastern spaceport of Sriharikota at 2.30am IST.

According to ISRO’s announcement on the launch, the planned test was to send the RLV-TD to a height of 70km above the Earth’s surface before beginning its descent, which would see it re-enter the atmosphere at around Mach 5, or five-times the speed of sound.

Following its successful launch and re-entry, the craft was guided back down to Earth using its guidance system, which brought it down safely to the landing zone located 450km away from the launch site at the Bay of Bengal.

RLV-TD launch

RLV-TD moving towards launch pad. Image via ISRO

New generation of reusable craft

“In this flight, critical technologies such as autonomous navigation, guidance and control, reusable thermal protection system and re-entry mission management have been successfully validated,” the statement reads.

This development is one of a growing trend among both national space agencies and private space companies to develop space-faring vessels that can be used a number of times, rather than just once, to significantly cut down costs, such as SpaceX’s most recent success with the Falcon 9 rocket.

What makes this achievement from ISRO most impressive, though, is that ISRO says it launched this craft on a budget of just 1bn rupees, or $14m.

ISRO last made headlines back in September of last year, following the successful launch of Astrosat, the country’s first telescope and astronomical instrument launched into orbit, thereby joining an elite few nations with their own space telescopes.

Rocket launch

RLV-TD Lift off. Image via ISRO

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic