The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on Monday successfully launched the reusable launch vehicle (RLV) from Sriharikota space centre in Andhra Pradesh.
"We have successfully accomplished the RLV mission as a technology demonstrator," ISRO director Devi Prasad Karnik said on the experimental mission.
The HS9 solid rocket booster carrying RLV-TD lifted off from the first launch pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota, at 7 am, a statement by the Department of Space said. It said after a successful flight of 91.1 second, HS9 burn out occurred, following which both HS9 and RLV-TD mounted on its top coasted to a height of about 56 km. At that height, RLV-TD separated from HS9 booster and further ascended to a height of about 65 km, the department added.
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, according to the statement.
ISRO acknowledges the support of the Indian Coast Guard and the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) for the mid-sea wind measurement and shipborne telemetry respectively in this mission.
The maiden mission has qualified India to enter the elite club of space-faring nations like the US (NASA), Russia (Russia), France (European Space Agency) and Japan (Jaxa), which developed and used RLVs for their space missions over the years.
The seven-metre RLV prototype was used as a flying test bed in to evaluate technologies the state-run space agency developed to reduce the cost of launching satellites into the Earth’s polar and geo-stationary orbits in the next decade.
"The long-term objective of this mission is to reduce the launch cost by 80 percent of the present cost by using a reusable vehicle," Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) director K. Sivan told IANS ahead of the test.
Rockets and support systems for launching satellites and space exploration missions are made at the space agency’s VSSC at Thiruvananthapuram in southern Kerala.
Space agencies across the world spend on average $20,000 per kg to build and use medium-to-heavy weight rockets to launch satellites into the Earth’s polar and geo-stationary orbits, about 36,000 km above the planet Earth.
"In subsequent test flights, we will attempt to land the reusable vehicle at a specific location on land like an aircraft does on a runway so that we can again use it for launching satellites," Sivan noted.
The space agency is developing the RLV and its support systems from the budget earmarked annually for technology development and research and development activities. The cost of developing the RLV technology is estimated to be about Rs.100 crore ($14 million).
"Developing the complex technology and using a reusable vehicle will take over a decade as we have to build them with our own resources," Sivan said.
Thrusters were used to navigate the vehicle at a high speed and descend after surviving in the lower atmosphere where temperatures remain very high.
The space agency will make at least two more RLV prototypes with additional features for other tests before the final version, which will be six times bigger than its demonstrators.