The Indian Space Research Association completed the first test flight of a shuttle-like reusable spacecraft on Monday, putting them on track to compete with the United States and the Soviet Union.
The RLV-TD vehicle was launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota on an HS9 solid rocket booster, and ascended to a height of about 56 km before separation. The winged RLV-TD vehicle reached a maximum height of 65 km and then descended back into the atmosphere at Mach 5.
In total, the flight lasted a little over 12 minutes. Although the vehicle was designed to eventually be able to land on a runway, the current version was not yet equipped to do so, and instead came down in the Bay of Bengal.
Navigation was performed by an autonomous Navigation, Guidance and Control system, while the vehicle was tracked by human operators at a ground station at Sriharikota and at a shipboard terminal. The test validated the autonomous systems, as well as a reusable thermal protection system and re-entry mission management.
This is India’s first winged hypersonic spacecraft. However, the country has been making headlines with its robotic explorers: the Mangalyaan Mars orbiter was inserted into the Red Planet’s orbit in 2014, marking the first time any country successfully reached Mars orbit on their first try.
India plans to continue to test RLV-TD vehicles, as well as working on the Supersonic Combustion Ramjet (“scramjet”) technology that could be used to propel it through the atmosphere at supersonic speeds.