KOVALAM: Taking India’s ‘space shuttle’ dreams a notch closer to reality, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) plans to test-fly the Re-usable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD) by the middle of 2015.
“The test-flight will take place either by the end of the first half of this year or the beginning of the second half. Work is progressing satisfactorily,” ISRO’s new chief A S Kiran Kumar told Express on the sidelines of the three-day International Conference on Climate Change and Disaster Management which began here on Thursday. “This first test is one of a segment. Work on the RLV is progressing in steps,” he said.
The unmanned, sub-orbital mission will lift off from the second launch pad of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC), Sriharikota. In simple terms, the two-stage technology demonstrator is a ‘space plane’ rigged atop a rocket. “The first stage burns on solid fuel. Atop it is the space plane which will return to earth after the flight,” Kiran Kumar said.
At present, for placing satellites in orbit, ISRO uses the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), both expendable vehicles. A Re-usable Launch Vehicle (RLV) - think NASA’s space shuttles - will bring down expenses phenomenally and is the next big leap in ISRO’s launch vehicle programme.
Kiran Kumar, who took over as ISRO chairman in January this year, also listed his other priorities for the space agency. Increasing the number of missions, completing India’s navigational satellite constellation and the big cryogenic engine for the Mk-III version of GSLV are a few.
“We have to streamline the whole process. We are actually behind schedule in many programmes,” he said. An important project underway is the development of the semi-cryogenic engine, which, again slashes launch costs remarkably. Whereas a cryogenic engine uses Liquid Hydrogen (LH2) and Liquid Oxygen (LOX) as propellants, a semi-cryogenic system replaces LH2 with cheaper and easier-to-handle kerosene.