ISRO Vs SpaceX, Will ISRO Outwit SpaceX in RLV Technology?


Will Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) outwit California-based Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) in the race for developing a reusable launch vehicle (RLV)? Let’s find out!

After stunning the world with its maiden successful flight test of RLV, the “Swadeshi Space Shuttle”, a technology demonstrator in the hypersonic regime, ISRO on Wednesday claimed that it was not lagging behind in the race. On the contrary, the national space agency said its RLV technology is more superior in terms of recoverability factor.

Dr K Sivan, Mission Director, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), said “SpaceX has demonstrated  a partially reusable launch vehicle, but ISRO is attempting to develop a fully reusable launch vehicle, SpaceX has demonstrated technology that recovers only one stage of the vehicle, which is completely different from ISRO’s RLV, and we are hopeful of delivering the final version within the next 10 years” To a query, Dr Sivan said “ISRO was not worried about losing commercial market to private players like Space X if it develops RLV before ISRO.

Dr K Sivan, in an interview to the New Indian Express, also said “We are currently not concerned about commercial utility of RLV. Our own domestic demands for satellite launching is huge. We already have 70 launches lined-up in the next five years. Technically, we have to launch a satellite every month. Our focus is on how to reduce access to space. We are forced to spend hundreds of crores of rupees on manufacturing rockets for each launch. Once the RLV is operational, we can cut down 80 per cent of the costs”. The typical cost of transporting 1 kg of payload to space using expendable launch vehicle is in the order of $15,000 to $20,000.

Almost all Space-Savvy nations are now reviving their RLV projects. NASA had the technology, but grounded it in 2011 due to cost factors. Russians and Europeans are beginning to bet on RLV technology. However, ISRO’s RLV is going to be the most commercially viable technology, when fully realized.
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