The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) successfully launched a reusable space shuttle on Monday. The test model of the Reusable Launch Vehicle – Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD) blasted off on a rocket from Sriharikota base off the coast of Andhra Pradesh at 7:00 am local time. The project aims to cut the cost of space missions by 10 times, ISRO said in a statement.
New space shuttle to cut costs by 10 times
India’s successful testing of space shuttle pits the country directly against Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin in the race to make space missions affordable. Many other countries including Japan, Russia and Europe have been working on their own reusable launch vehicles since NASA ended its own space shuttle program in 2011. India spent only $14 million on the project, a small fraction of what Western countries spend.
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The winged spacecraft reached an altitude of 70 kilometers before gliding back at supersonic speeds for a splashdown in the Bay of Bengal, about 500 kilometers from the launch site. It was the first time that ISRO launched a space shuttle and returned it safely to land on a makeshift runway. Just 20 minutes after liftoff, ISRO declared, “Mission accomplished.”
Final version to be six times bigger
The 1.75-ton spacecraft was only a technology demonstrator. Its primary objective was to let the Indian space agency collect critical flight data such as hypersonic speed and autonomous landing. ISRO plans another two prototypes before launching the final version that will be six times bigger than the one tested on Monday. The future versions will include an undercarriage to make the space shuttle land at Sriharikota.
Launch of India's first indigenous space shuttle RLV-TD is the result of the industrious efforts of our scientists. Congrats to them.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) May 23, 2016
Shortly after the successful launch and re-entry of the vehicle, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated ISRO scientists, praising their “industrious efforts.” The successful testing of the space shuttle project strengthens India’s position in global space industry. In 2014, the country’s Mars Orbiter Mission or Mangalyaan reached Mars in the very first attempt. ISRO’s total budget for this year is $1.1 billion, only a fraction of NASA’s $19 billion annual budget.