ISRO’s Reusable Launch Vehicle

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    • Recently, ISRO successfully carried out the landing experiment of the Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstration (RLV-TD) programme.

    More about the news

    • Location of the experiment:
      • The space agency conducted the ‘Reusable Launch Vehicle Autonomous Landing Mission (RLV LEX)’ at the Aeronautical Test Range of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in Karnataka’s Challakere, in Chitradurga district.
    • Course of landing experiment:
      • An Indian Air Forces (IAF) Chinook helicopter was used to drop the RLV-TD from a 4.5 km altitude and ISRO executed the landing experiment of the RLV-TD as planned.
      • The release of the RLV was autonomous as it performed approach and landing maneuvers using Integrated Navigation, Guidance, and control system and completed an autonomous landing on the airstrip
    • Significance:
      • The space agency ISRO has said that in a first in the world, a winged body has been carried to an altitude of 4.5 km by helicopter and released for carrying an autonomous landing on a runway.

    More about Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstration (RLV-TD):

    • Objective:
      • One of the key objectives of mastering the RLV technology is to achieve low cost access to space.
    • Configuration: 
      • According to ISRO the configuration of RLV-TD is similar to that of an aircraft and combines the complexity of both launch vehicles and aircraft.
      • The winged RLV-TD has been configured to act as a flying test bed to evaluate various technologies, namely, hypersonic flight, autonomous landing, and powered cruise flight
      • RLV-TD consists of a fuselage (body), a nose cap, double delta wings, and twin vertical tails. It also features symmetrically placed active control surfaces called Elevons and Rudder.
    • Previous experiment:
      • RLV-TD was successfully flight tested on May 23, 2016, from Sriharikota validating the critical technologies such as autonomous navigation, guidance and control, reusable thermal protection system, and re-entry mission management.
      • During this mission the vehicle landed on a hypothetical runway over the Bay of Bengal.
        • The recent landing experiment is the second in the series of experimental flights of the programme.
    • Difference in the two tests?
      • According to ISRO, the first test with RLV-TD (HEX1) involved the vehicle landing on a hypothetical runway over the Bay of Bengal while the recent LEX experiment involved a precise landing on a runway.
    • Future Potential:
      • In the future, this vehicle will be scaled up to become the first stage of India’s reusable two-stage orbital launch vehicle.

    Significance

    • Boost to other operational launch vehicles of ISRO: 
      • Localized Navigation systems based on pseudolite systems, instrumentation and sensor systems, etc were developed by ISRO, adaptation of contemporary technologies developed for RLV LEX makes other operational launch vehicles of ISRO more cost-effective.
        • More experiments are in the pipeline to ensure that the RLV succeeds in payload delivery to low earth orbit, as ISRO plans to reduce the cost of the process by 80 per cent. 
        • The Return Flight Experiment and other related tests of the RLV are also being planned.
    • Cost factor:
      • With the costs acting as a major deterrent to space exploration, a reusable launch vehicle is considered a low-cost, reliable, and on-demand mode of accessing space.
      • Nearly 80 to 87 percent of the cost in a space launch vehicle goes into the structure of the vehicle. 
      • The costs of propellants are minimal in comparison
      • By using RLVs the cost of a launch can be reduced by nearly 80 percent of the present cost.

    Global advancement of RLV technologies 

    • NASA:
      • Reusable space vehicles have been in existence for a long time with NASA space shuttles carrying out dozens of human space flight missions.
    • Space X:
      • The use case for reusable space launch vehicles has revived with the private space launch services provider Space X demonstrating partially reusable launch systems with its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets since 2017. 
        • SpaceX is also working on a fully reusable launch vehicle system called Starship.
    • Others:
      • Several private launch service providers and government space agencies are working on developing reusable launch systems in the world alongside ISRO.

    Source: TH