Aditya Vaibhav

New Delhi: With a view to making yet another giant leap for India in the field of space science, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is all set for a short test flight of the prototype of a fullfledged and indigenously built sleek winged reusable space launch vehicle on Monday. The first such flight, which will be a technology demonstrator, will be launched from Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota.

ISRO sources, who did not wish to be quoted, informed that the idea to develop a vehicle with delta wings and angled tail fins is to fly into space, inject an orbiter and land on earth like an aircraft. So it can be reused saving crucial resources including time, effort and, obviously, money involved. This will not only help ISRO cut the  cost of satellite launches by up to around 10 times. An advanced version of the vehicle can also be used for manned missions.

In the scheduled hypersonic test flight, the vehicle fitted with a solid strap-on thruster will take off vertically like a rocket at Mach V (five times the speed of sound) to reach an altitude of 70km. After ascent, the vehicle will test its manoeuvring skills and take a 180 degree turn before its re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. But on its descent, it will have a controlled splashdown in the Bay of Bengal instead of an aircraft-like landing, which will be tested subsequently. The entire 10 minutes’ test flight will add another feather in the to ISRO’s hat.

Earlier, PM Narendra Modi during the launch of Mangal Yaan (Mars Orbiter) informed the proud nation that the entire project cost was less than what was incurred on  the shooting of Gravity, a multi-million dollar Hollywood movie.

Director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre and an alumnus of prestigious institutions like Madras Institute of Technology, IISc, Bangalore, and IIT, Bombay, K Sivan told mediapersons recently that it will take at least a decade to have a full-scale reusable launcher, which will land like an aircraft and can be recovered and reused.

The first test flight will, however, be a flying test bed to evaluate three of the basic technology involved in the development of the vehicle. It will include aero-thermodynamic characterization of the winged re-entry body, its autonomous mission management to land at a specified location and its hot structures or the heat shield that will protect the vehicles in high temperature that are experienced when a vehicle re-enters the earth’s atmosphere.

“At around 45km, the boosters will separate and fall in Bay of Bengal, while the vehicle will move ahead to reach 70km before it glides down,” Sivan maintains. “It is only a dummy, so we will not recover the vehicle.”

The first flight model weighing 1.7tons took about six years to be built and is about five times smaller than the operational reusable launch vehicle. The operational vehicle will have two stages, carry air-breathing engines and have conventional rocket thrusters.

India’s first test flight for a reusable launch vehicle comes about five years after NASA grounded its reusable launch shuttle in 2011.

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