India's Reusable Launch Vehicle: Civil Services Mentor Magazine: July - 2016

India's Reusable Launch Vehicle

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is continously making India proud again and again. Despite having limited resources they are able to outshine the European countries also. Now with the successful launch of the first technology demonstrator of the indigenously made Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV), ISRO has added another jewel in their crown. Although this is not the final step, this technology needs to be tested further before it can be used properly. Many more such successful launches have to be undertaken before the RLV becomes a reusable launch system to put satellites into orbit. There were some limited objectives of this launch and ISRO has passed these objectives with flying colours. Some of the objectives of this launch are given below:

  • test the aero-thermodynamic characterisation of the vehicle with wings when it re-enters the atmosphere at hypersonic speed;
  • Evaluation of autonomous Navigation, Guidance and Control (NGC) schemes
  • Integrated flight management
  • Thermal Protection System Evaluation
  • the control system to land the vehicle at a specific location;
  • and the hot structure, the basic body-carrying part of the vehicle with heat protecting tiles.

It will still take atleast 10-15 years to get the ultimate objective of the reusable launc. The ultimate objective is to test the vehicle’s performance when it travels at a speed of Mach 25 using air-breathing propulsion. Several more successful launches and efforts are needed before ISRO can successfully say that it has made it commercially viable.

Reusable Launch Vehicle – Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD) is one of the most technologically challenging endeavors of ISRO towards developing essential technologies for a fully reusable launch vehicle to enable low cost access to space. 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. In future, this vehicle will be scaled up to become the first stage of India’s reusable two stage orbital launch vehicle.
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. This technology demonstrator was boosted to Mach no: 5 by a conventional solid booster (HS9) designed for low burn rate. The selection of materials like special alloys, composites and insulation materials for developing an RLV-TD and the crafting of its parts is very complex and demands highly skilled manpower. Many high technology machinery and test equipment were utilised for building this vehicle.

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