Home / Politics / Policy /  Isro to carry out winged-reusable rocket tech demo

Mumbai: Satellites are typically deployed by expensive rockets which disintegrate in phases en route to space; however, the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) is working on developing the technology for a winged rocket that can be used repeatedly, a senior official said.

Isro will carry out the technology demonstration of the reusable launch vehicle in March, the official said.

Space vehicles are costly to build and launch, and making them reusable could help reduce space mission costs.

“The structure that makes a rocket has to be such that it should have 98% propellant and 2% structure. Only then reusability is possible. Today’s technology does not allow you to go to that level as 5% to 10% will be the mass of the structure and around 90% will be the propellant," said S. Somanath, associate director of Isro’s Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC).

“But then, new ideas are coming up, SpaceX is working on a reusable launch vehicle, but nobody is sure if in the next 10 years, reusable vehicles will be a reality," Somanth added.

VSSC is trying to develop a Winged Reusable Launch Vehicle Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD) which will act as a flying tester to assess hypersonic flight, autonomous landing, powered cruise flight and hypersonic flight using air-breathing propulsion. Isro is currently integrating the flight model.

In the technology demonstrator, Isro will test 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.

To be sure, this will be a technological demonstration and the tested vehicle will not be reusable. The VSSC director explained that take-off will be vertical like a rocket, and landing will be like that of an aircraft.

“The reusable launch vehicle is important because space orbiting currently costs us $5,000 per km. That kind of money, space exploration and commercial space activities, are not possible," explained Somanth.

“We want to come down to $500, and the one problem here is hardware. Propellant is not that costly, but the hardware is extremely costly and needs to be reused for space travel to be affordable," he added.

Attempts at developing an operational reusable rocket launcher have not been quite successful so far. Till now, only two vehicles have come close to being a reusable launch vehicle—one being the space shuttle developed by the US, and the other, Buran developed by Russia. Both of these were only partially usable.

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