India joined the global race of developing reusable space shuttles by launching its first mini space shuttle, RLV-TD (Reusable Launch Vehicle) on 23rd May. The shuttle was developed by ISRO’s New Delhi based space centre on a shoestring budget of just 14 million dollars which is really less as compared to the billions of dollars other nations spend on these space programmes.
The shuttle, which was as compact as a minibus was launched from its base on 7:00am, over the clear blue sky of south-eastern India. It reached an altitude of approximately 70 kilometres without any trouble but after that, it started gliding back to Earth, ultimately crashing into the waters of Bay of Bengal. ISRO’s spokesperson Devi Prasad Karnik told the media that this mission was a small but important step towards developing a full-sized reusable space shuttle in the future. He said that ISRO has successfully carried out the RLV test mission to demonstrate the potential of the technology.
By reusing machinery and parts of old space shuttles and launch vehicles, we can reduce the costs of developing new ones by a huge margin. This global race of building reusable rockets began in the year 2011 after NASA announced the retirement of its space shuttle programme. Besides ISRO, Canadian-American inventor/business magnate, Elon Musk’s enterprise – SpaceX successfully completed its test launches. Blue Origin which is owned by Jeff Bezos (the owner of Amazon) was also able to successfully carry out a couple of test launches in April.
Musk’s technology requires around 60 million dollars to build a new rocket and an additional 300,000 dollars for the fuel. Compared to that, ISRO’s initiative costs much less. If ISRO manages to perfect its technology, it will definitely become one of the most successful and affordable space-missions organiser in the world. When ISRO effectively launched its first space vehicle to orbit Mars in 2013, it became the first Asian country to carry out a Mars Mission successfully. This mission was completed at a cost of just 73 million dollars. Compare this with the fact that US invested a whopping 671 million dollars to complete NASA’s Maven Mars mission. So, indeed India has an immense potential to become the world leader in the field of budget space programmes, we just need to be a little more careful and organised.