Successful flight test for India's experimental reusable spaceplane
India today entered the ranks of spacefaring nations with reusable spacecraft as the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) conducted the first flight of its locally-built spaceplane demonstrator. The unmanned, scale hypersonic Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD) spaceplane took off at 7:00 am IST on a suborbital flight of 770 seconds from First Launch Pad at Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota and was safely recovered after a successful reentry and splashdown.
Similar in design to the US Air Force's X-37B, the RLV-TD is a two-stage scaled prototype of India's Avatar spacecraft that is designed to drastically reduce the cost of launching payloads into orbit from US$5,000 per kilogram (2.2 lb) to US$500. RLV-TD is a winged technology demonstrator for testing flight and propulsion systems that will allow the completed Avatar to return to Earth for a controlled landing like a conventional aircraft.
For today's flight, the unmanned demonstrator lifted off atop a conventional HS9 solid rocket booster, which fired for 91.1 seconds. After separation, the winged craft coasted to an altitude of 65 km (40 mi) before making a controlled reentry during which it reached a peak velocity of Mach 5 (3,800 mph, 6,125 km/h).
When the atmosphere was thick enough, the flight surfaces took over and the RLV-TD glided under on-board computer control to the recovery area for a splashdown in the Bay of Bengal about 450 km (280 mi) from Sriharikota. The sea recovery was necessary because the spaceplane requires a runway 5 km (3.1 mi) long, which India does not currently possess.
The flight was the first in a series that will test the RLV-TD's ability to carry out hypersonic flight, landings, return flight, and scramjet propulsion before a full-sized vehicle is built. During today's mission, the team concentrated on testing the spacecraft's autonomous navigation, guidance and control systems, the reusable thermal protection system, and on re-entry mission management.
The RLV-TD was originally scheduled to fly in 2015, but was delayed due to technical issues.