In a bid to cut cost of satellite launchers, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is working on reusable launch technology for using the first and second stages of a rocket multiple times. To master this technology, ISRO is going to conduct an advanced version of the reusable launch technology (RLV) test in June-July. ISRO chairman Dr K Sivan said, “We are working on a reusable launch technology in order to recover the first and second stages of a rocket so that we can reuse them to cut cost and carry heavier payloads. The first rocket stage will be recovered on a vertical landing spot on the sea like SpaceX has been doing it with its Falcon rocket. However, recovering the second stage is not simple. We are, therefore, developing a winged body like a space shuttle. This shuttle will be attached as a second stage in a rocket. It will carry the top portion of the rocket comprising a satellite or spacecraft to space. Once it injects the satellite in its orbit, the shuttle will glide back to the earth and land on an airstrip like an aircraft.” He said the “second stage recovery has never been tried by any other space agency in the world, not even SpaceX”. ISRO had conducted the first demonstration test of India’s winged body vehicle on May 23, 2016. Then, the RLV had reached a height of 70 km and was manoeuvred back to earth where it glided down into the Indian Ocean and disintegrated. On the June-July test, Sivan said, “The test will be different this time where a helicopter will take the shuttle to a considerable height and from that height, the winged body will be dropped. The shuttle will then glide back to earth and land on an airstrip.” ISRO is also planning to conduct a third test of the RLV from the orbit. There is speculation that the landing strip could be made in Andaman and Nicobar islands. However, no final decision has been taken yet. Currently, SpaceX rules the Rs 39,000-crore global market of satellite launches. The Mr Elon Musk-promoted US company which had 0% market share in 2009 gobbled up over 50% (projected) of the market share in 2018 mostly because of its reusable technology where it uses first stage rocket multiple times. On the other hand, ISRO’s share is just 0.6% in the global market. In 2018, ISRO had launched PSLV just thrice for foreign satellites. Instead, SpaceX launched Falcon rocket 20 times for commercial purpose. As the market is set to grow to $7 billion (Rs 49,000 crore) by 2024, ISRO can grab a significant share if it is able to master the RLV technology
ISRO is working on reusable launch vehicle technology for using the first and second stages of a rocket multiple times.
- ISRO has successfully developed a scaled down (1:5) technology demonstration version of Reusable Launch Vehicle – Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD) vehicle and carried out the first experimental mission in 2016
- ISRO plans to conduct an advanced version of the reusable launch technology in June-July 2019
What is Reusable Launch Vehicle Technology Demonstrator (RLV TD)?
- The RLV TD is a hybrid vehicle that combines the technologies of an aircraft and launch vehicle, one on top of the other
- The main objectives of the RLV TD are to reduce cost of launch by increasing reusability and to increase reliability by achieving a Two Stage to Orbit (TSTO) capability.
- At present, SpaceX dominates the global market of satellite launches and has more than 50% share primarily because of it reusable technology where it uses first stage rocket multiple times
- However, ISRO’s share in the global market is only 0.6%. Mastering RLV technology is expected to increase ISRO’s share significantly