ISRO Gears up for Next Space Shuttle Mission; Land the RLV-TD on a Runway

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On Monday, ISRO successfully tested the indigenously built winged-body aerospace vehicle, which when fully developed can be used multiple times to send satellites into orbit. At present, a rocket goes waste every time a satellite is launched, he told newspersons.
The next test of the Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD) will be to land the aerospace vehicle on a runway when it returns from space,” said K Sivan, Director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

Next Target

On return from space, the RLV-TD landed at the precise location in the sea, but got disintegrated. However, the next test is to fully get back the RLV-TD and make it land in a 5-km runway to be built at SHAR, Sriharikota,” K Sivan said.

A large amount of data has been collected from RLV-TD, a project initiated in 2003. It will be analyzed, and if fully satisfied, ISRO will go ahead with the next stage of testing,” he said without giving a timeframe.

There will be different levels of tests and demonstrations in the next 10-15 years before a full-fledged RLV is developed. For instance, the energy to be dissipated on re-entry is huge resulting in extreme heat due aerodynamic drag experienced by RLV (1,800 k surface temperature). The re-entry module must land on a pre-designated landing site without disintegrating due to extreme decelerating loads.

The RLV would launch spacecraft, including satellites, into space and re-enter the earth’s atmosphere withstanding extreme pressure and heat conditions and land in an intended spot.

In future, there is going to be a huge demand for ISRO to launch satellites – around 60 in the next five years. This requires RLV, which can return to earth after inserting the payload in to the designated orbit and can be re-used with minor refurbishment. This will ensure fast turnaround time between launches,” he said.

While the VSSC designed, conceptualised and tested the RLV-TD, which costs around ₹95 crore, some of the work, including fabrication, was done by private companies.

The US and Russia have developed RLV while Japan has tested a portion of the RLV. The RLV-TD was only one-sixth the size of RLV.

Expandable Launch

ISRO’s focus has been mainly to develop expendable launch systems such as PSLV, GSLV, GSLV-Mk-III and hybrid launch system, which is partly re-usable like Space Shuttle. These systems are expensive to produce and incur high rates per launch.

Typically, the cost of transporting 1 kg of payload to space using expendable launch vehicle is $15,000-20,000. Of this, 80 per cent of the rocket cost is towards engines and structure. If the engines and the structure can be recovered and re-used, there could be a substantial reduction in cost to launch payloads in space,” he said.

To break even, the RLV should be used 30-40 times. However, ‘our target’ is to use the RLV for nearly 100 times. We will then spend only 20 per of the present cost, which will be a substantial saving,” he said. Source
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