ISRO’s Big Hanuman Leap – To Launch Fully Made-In-India Space Shuttle RLV-TD

For the first time in Indian space history, ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) is gaining wind under its wings this month for a completely made-in-India flight. RLV-TD is an indigenous effort from the team and is pretty much the same weight and size of a standard sports utility vehicle (SUV). At the moment it’s being given some final touches at Sriharikota ahead of its maiden flight.

Many big players had abandoned the idea of reusing a winged scale model, but our Indian engineers believe that recycling or reusing the rocket is a sure solution to bring down the cost of launching satellites into orbit. ISRO engineers believe that if this technique becomes successful, they could reduce the launch cost by ten times, reducing it to $2,000 per kilogram.

If all goes in accordance with ISRO’s plans, then soon we’d witness the launch of the indigenous Reusable Launch Vehicle – Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD) off Sriharikota’s spaceport. This is a first for ISRO where it will launch a spacecraft which has delta wings, and after launch it shall be glided back onto a virtual runway at Bay of Bengal.


The RLV-TD won’t be retrieved from the sea during this experiment as it is likely that the vehicle will disintegrate on impact with water, because it’s not designed to float. The experiment’s aim is not to determine whether the shuttle would float, but to make it glide and navigate with a velocity five times higher compared to the speed of sound on a virtual runway in the Bay of Bengal 500m off from the coast.

The physical appearance of the RLV-TD is very similar to American space shuttles, and the shuttle in experimentation is a scaled model of the final version, about 6 times smaller than it.

Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSCC), Thiruvananthapuram director K Sivan stated that these are the organisation’s initial leaps towards the big Hanuman leap. The final version of the shuttle shall take up 10-15 years to be readied, as redesigning a human-rated reusable rocket is not easy. Near about 600 scientists and engineers have worked hard in making RLV-TD a reality.

Only America has made successful attempts at operating flights on a space shuttle. Russia made the Buran space shuttle and flew it just once. France and Japan made a few experimental flights as well.

India commenced making its very own space shuttle by ideating about it some 15 years ago, but significant work started on the project from 2011 onwards when engineers and scientists from the country assembled to make RLV-TD a reality.

The 6.5 metre aeroplane-like space shuttle weighs 1.75 tons and shall be hoisted into the atmosphere on a unique rocket booster. The booster, or the first stage, is powered by a single fuel and will hoist the spacecraft 70km into the atmosphere, from where its descent shall begin. During its glider-like descend, small thrusters shall help the shuttle navigate to the exact spot where it’s expected to land. The entire activity shall be monitored by ships, satellites and radars.

The current scaled down version has no undercarriage, so it can’t be brought back to land as Indian doesn’t have a proper runway that’s longer than 5 km to assist such a landing.

The development of RLV-TD took five years, and so far the government of India has invested Rs 95 crore in the project. The experiment shall test the capability of the vehicle to survive a re-entry speed 5x the speed of sound, so it’s being called a hyper sonic experiment (HEX).

In the later flights the shuttle would be subjected to landing experiment and return flight experiment. Once these experiments are successful, ISRO shall study the set configurations on all and then come up with the final configuration for the Reusable Launch Vehicle.

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