A scaled-down, unmanned version of India’s futuristic space shuttle is getting the final touches at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) in Thumba. With the construction of the Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD) nearing completion, Mr. A S Kiran Kumar, chairman, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), is scheduled to lead a review of the dream project here. “The ‘space plane’ part of the RLV-TD is almost ready. We are now in the process of affixing special tiles on its outer surface which is needed for withstanding the intense heat during re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere,” SSC director Mr. M Chandradathan said. “The entire construction of the RLV-TD is being handled by VSSC,” he said. ISRO has tentatively slated the prototype’s test flight from the first launch pad of Sriharikota spaceport for July this year, but the date would be finalised depending on the completion of construction. The proposed RLV is designed in two parts; a manned space plane rigged atop a single stage, booster rocket using solid fuel. The rocket is expendable while the RLV would fly back to earth and land like a normal aeroplane after the mission. The prototype- ‘the RLV-TD’ weighs just 1.5 tonnes and would fly up to a height of 70 kms. For the test mission, the unmanned space plane part would glide into the Bay of Bengal a la the recent crew module successfully tested aboard the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk-III (GSLV Mk-III) experimental flight last year. India’s answer to the space shuttle, the RLV is one of the big steps forward in ISRO’s launch vehicle programme along with the GSLV Mk-III and the Unified Launch Vehicle project. ISRO has successfully tested re-entry technology twice- the first time in 2009 with the Space Capsule Recovery Experiment-1 (SRE-1) in January 2007 and the second with the Crew Module Atmospheric Re-entry Experiment (CARE) aboard the GSLV Mk-III in December 2014.