ISRO’s Reusable Launch Vehicle - Technology Demonstration Program

In the first in a series of “technology demonstration missions” for a reusable launch vehicle, ISRO will soon be launching a prototype that will be about six times smaller than the final Two Stage To Orbit (TSTO) fully reusable vehicle. ISRO is calling this upcoming launch the first step of an indigenous reusable launch vehicle (RLV) program.

If the program is successful, India will catch up with the Soviet Union and the United States who have had their own successful RLV programs, though both of them are retired now. The European Union and private players like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin have already built and tested a successful prototype RLV. No completely reusable launch system (RLS) is currently in use by any country.

An RLV or RLS is capable of launching a payload (like satellites) into space more than once. If India is able to successfully develop the final version of the RLV, the already ridiculously low satellite launch cost of ISRO (Rs.12 Lacs /Kg) will get further slashed by about 10 times to Rs.1.5 Lac /Kg according to ISRO scientists. While SpaceX founder Elon Musk is predicting a 100 fold decrease in cost over the years.

According to sources, preparations are underway in full swing at ISRO for the launch which may happen before the end of this Month (26/27 May is being rumoured). ISRO is believed to be doing the final finishes to a “winged plane like RLV” (similar to the space shuttle?) that most probably is not going to be retrieved from the sea once it re-enters the earth. ISRO will guide it back to land on a “virtual runway” over the Bay of Bengal.

If this is successful, ISRO says it will take another 10-15 years to make a truly reusable “space shuttle” kind of vehicle in which our men and women can travel to and fro space.

I am very excited to see how the ISRO’s RLV first test flight will perform. Wishing ISRO all the best and waiting for the announcement of launch day soon! By the way, for those itiching to see how it will look like, here’s the first ever test RLV that’s going to be launched.

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ISRO’s RLV, if successful, will cut launch costs by a factor of ten. And this means even a successful SpaceX or BlueOrigin launch program cannot compete in terms of costs in near term. So I guess depending on the success of this test flight the US senate may pass a ban on the use of ISRO’s ANTRIX by American companies for their satellite launches, citing Govt. subsidies