Reusable shuttle: Isro's mega success

The Indian Space Research Organisation’s successful testing of the prototype of a Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) marks an important stage in the progress of the country’s space programme. It is a major step towards developing a launch vehicle capable of
sending a spacecraft into orbit and returning to the earth’s surface. A number of new technologies which the Isro has not tried till now were tested in the programme. The RLV, configured as a winged body space plane, had to fly at hypersonic speed, re-enter the atmosphere with all protection systems intact and touch down in a predetermined area. The “landing” was in the Bay of Bengal. The Isro has stated that all technologies worked well and the mission was a “fantastic” success. All the technologies involved in the launch were developed within the country. They were a class different from those which were employed in earlier space missions.

The success of the RLV is not only about new technologies but about the cost of the launches too. India’s space programme has been known to be the most cost-effective in the world. When the RLV programme is fully developed, it can reduce the cost of putting payloads into space by as much as 10 times. It costs about $ 20,000 to put one kg of payload into space now. An RLV can bring it down to $ 2,000. The development cost of the programme till now is only Rs 95 crore. The RLV is to be used as a space shuttle. The US and Russia have used such shuttles in their space missions. The US flew 15 missions with five space shuttles. NASA has stopped using shuttles but two private corporations in the US – Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Bezos’ Blue Origin – have developed them. India is the fifth nation after the US, Russia, France and Japan to develop a space shuttle.
 
The RLV launched May 23 was a technology demonstrator. It is only sixth in size and weight of the real shuttle which will be used for actual space flights. More technical development and experimental flights are required for the programme. Two models with more features are to be launched in the near future. It is estimated that it will take 10-15 years to fully develop and deploy an Indian shuttle. It might seem to be a long time but the utility of the space shuttle will be as high after 15 years as now. The benefits of lower launch costs and mastery of new technologies will make the reusable launch vehicle program-me worthy of the time, effort and money invested in it.

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