New Delhi: On Tuesday, Elon Musk’s aerospace manufacturer company SpaceX sent a Falcon rocket toward orbit with 11 small satellites, and then landed the 15-story leftover booster back on Earth safely.
It marks a landmark in the world’s attempts to develop reusable launch vehicle technologies that will bring down the costs of space missions drastically.
“If one can figure out how to effectively reuse rockets just like airplanes, the cost of access to space will be reduced by as much as a factor of a hundred. A fully reusable vehicle has never been done before. That really is the fundamental breakthrough needed to revolutionize access to space," Musk had said earlier this year.
India, too, is taking slow steps towards developing its own reusable rocket using a Winged Reusable Launch Vehicle Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD) to test out technologies including hypersonic flight, autonomous landing, powered cruise flight and hypersonic flight using air-breathing propulsion.
Next year, Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) will begin with the launch of the fourth satellite in Indian Regional Navigational Satellite System (IRNSS) in January, which will be followed by the tech demo of the reusable launch vehicle.
“The technology demonstration programme will take place probably around first week of February when a scaled model of reusable vehicle will be flown to space and brought down to the Bay of Bengal," said an Isro spokesperson.
The demo was earlier scheduled for March when Isro would have tested if the 12-tonne vehicle can reach five times the speed of sound, whether it can re-enter the atmosphere and land on the sea using its computer system. But the demonstration was postponed and is now scheduled to take place next year. The take-off in this demonstration will be vertical like a rocket, and landing will be like that of an aircraft.
This year, the space agency completed studies related to the rocket by carrying out various simulations. It also validated the onboard software and conducted a successful test of the solid booster motor (HS9) with Secondary Injection Thrust Vector Control system.
“A reusable vehicle is very important. There are two ways to look at it, one is the time factor and one is the cost factor. With a reusable vehicle , if two launches can be carried out in quick succession. This would save huge costs and will reduce the time to prepare the launch site," said Ajey Lele, fellow at New Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.