Reusable spacecraft test is a success

In a maiden effort, India on Monday successfully flight tested its first winged body aerospace vehicle, also known as a spaceplane, marking a giant leap for the country's nearly 50-year-old space programme, though Isro prefers to call it a “small step“.
The success of Monday's nearly Rs.95-crore mission establishes that India has joined the big league, namely , the US, Russia, the European Space Agency and Japan, who have been working on this complex technology for years. The United States is the only nation to have operationalized the reusable launch system, namely Nasa's Space Shuttle, which is a spaceplane.
The ultimate role of Isro's mission was to lower launch costs. For example, if it costs Rs.3 lakh to fly per kg of payload currently , following this mission's success once the new technology becomes operationalized in about a decade, the price could come down to nearly Rs.30,000. The much awaited flight, which has attracted global attention and interest, was carried out in the hypersonic flight regime.
The advantage of the reusable launch system is that once it becomes operational, the cost of operating items used by the public like cellphones and cable TV , which depend upon space technology , could drastically reduce. The project had been on the cards for decades, but was dogged by problems and delays. It finally got the green signal in 2012 and was designed and developed by a team of over 600 scientists at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre .
Former Isro chief Krishnaswamy Kasturirangan said that the launch was a crucial step. “It has marked the next step in the country's space transportation system and will go a long way in allowing low cost access to space in the future. However modest it was ...I still think it was a very big step and I now hope the programme will get accelerated,“ Kasturirangan said.
Recreating the sequence of events, Isro said that on Monday a nine-metre-long solid rocket booster called HS9, carrying the 1.7-tonne and 6.5metre-long spaceplane, also known as RLV-TD, lifted off from the first launch pad at Sriharikota at 7 am. Sources said the event pulled in a crowd from nearby Sullerpetta, as people gathered along roads, on rooftops and in verandahs to witness the launch. After 91.1 seconds, the HS9 burn out took place following which, both the HS9 and the spaceplane mounted on its top, coasted to a height of about 56 km. The spaceplane then separated from the rocket and flew to a height of about 65 km.It was from this altitude that the vehicle initiated its descent followed by the critical atmospheric re-entry at five times the speed of sound.
It then glided down to a landing spot over the Bay of Bengal, fulfilling its mission objectives in course of the nearly 770-second flight.
An Isro official said the spaceplane transmitted signals till the very end, until it landed in the Bay of Bengal, and then began to sink. The vehicle's navigation, guidance and control system steered it towards safe descent, with its thermal protection system helping it survive temperatures as high as 2,000°C.
The most crucial aspect of a spaceplane's re-entry is its thermal protection system that consists of silica tiles.Nitin Valeth, executive director, Valeth Group Of Industries, said the tiles for the spaceplane which had its maiden flight on Monday were jointly developed by Isro and his firm. He added know-how of the technology of these heat-resistant tiles was not available anywere; nobody was willing to share it.

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