India Launches Prototype Space Shuttle for Just $14 Million

Prototype Shuttle Launch a Major Development in Low Cost Access to Space

India has joined the race to develop inexpensive, reusable launch vehicles with a successful launch of  a miniature prototype space shuttle.

India launches mini prototype space shuttle

Launched Monday morning from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, the 7m technology demonstrator, called the Reusable Launch Vehicle, or RLV-TD (for Technology Demonstrator) reached an altitude of 70 km (43 miles) before it glided back down to Earth and splashed into the Bay of Bengal 10 minutes later.

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) spokesman Devi Prasad Karnik told AFP:

We have successfully accomplished the RLV mission as a technology demonstrator, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) spokesman Devi Prasad Karnik told AFP.

And K. Sivan, a scientist involved in the project, added:

We have located the place where the vehicle is floating. The landing was soft and the vehicle did not break. The mission went off as planned and data from the experiment showed that we have achieved its objectives and demonstrated the RLV technology.

The test mission was a small but crucial step towards eventually developing a full-size, reusable version of the shuttle with the goal of making access to space much cheaper and putting India in position to be a leader in space launch services.

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The RLV-TD has reportedly been in development for more than 10 years, on a reported budget of just $14 million. The ISRO is planning a much larger 42-meter version they hope to laucnh within the next decade.

The launch and its low cost were a source of immense pride in India, which beat rival China in becoming the first Asian country to reach the Red Planet.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised both the launch and the work of the ISRO, saying on Twitter:

Launch of India's first indigenous space shuttle RLV-TD is the result of the industrious efforts of our scientists. Congrats to them.​

Space agencies around the world --  notably Europe, Japan and Russia -- are all working to develop reusable shuttle technology in the hopes it will reduce cost and save resources, as are private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin.

But India has been investing heavily in its low-cost space program with the goal of becoming a leader in providing inexpensive launch services and space technology.

And with the successful launch of their first prototype space shuttle, they appear to be well on their way.​

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