On Monday India successfully sent to space a reusable mini-shuttle in preparation for an upcoming launch using a full-scale Reusable Launch Vehicle (RVL).
The RVL was launched from India’s Sriharikota base and was sent up to an altitude of around 40 miles. The shuttle then glided back and splashed in the Gulf of Bengal. The shuttle returned to Earth approximately 13 minutes after taking off. Although technically, the RVL did not reach space, the operation represents a big step forward for India’s ambitious space program.
Although it is currently lagging behind the pioneers of affordable space travel such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is becoming a major player of late. According to some voices in India, one relevant factor in spurring India to develop its space program is competition from China. While the US, a traditional actor in the reusable spacecraft sector, has taken a step back compared to its private sector, the Chinese are getting ahead in the space race. The flourishing space program initiated by the Chinese military was a “direct challenge” to India, Rajeswari Rajagopalan, head of the Nuclear Space Policy Initiative of the Observer Research Foundation stated.
However, the fact that both India and China are making strides is seen as a shift in the balance of power in a field that was once dominated by Europe and the US. According to Ajey Lele, a senior fellow with the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, the Asian nations are breaking new ground.
India sent its first space into space in 1963, followed by the first satellite in 1975. More recently, the Asian country’s mission to the moon, completed in 2009, showed the body might be an appropriate ground for water formation. Remarkably, India is also managing to put a relatively low price tag on its space missions. The 2014 probe that the country sent to Mars’ orbit came at a cost of only $74 million. According to reports, the mini-shuttle cost India about $14 million.
The full-size RVL is expected to be launched in about eight years’ time, ISRO officials stated. Also, the Indian space agency must successfully pass the challenge of landing a mini-shuttle the spacecraft on land, rather than on water.
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