May 24, 2016

    India pulls off successful space shuttle test launch


    INDIA successfully launched its first model space shuttle yesterday, a top official said, as New Delhi joined the race to develop a reusable rocket to make space travel easier and cheaper.

    The winged shuttle blasted off on a rocket from the south-eastern spaceport of Sriharikota with television footage showing it streaming through a clear sky.

    The shuttle, about one sixth the size of a normal one, was meant to reach an altitude of 70km before gliding back down and splashing into the Bay of Bengal 10 minutes later.

    "The lift-off was at 7am from the first launch pad here," India's space chief Devi Prasad Karnik said.

    "We have successfully accomplished the RLV mission as a technology demonstrator," he said.

    The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), known for its low costs, had developed the winged shuttle called the Reusable Launch Vehicle or RLV-TD reportedly on a minuscule budget of one billion rupees (S$20 million).

    Yesterday's test mission was a crucial step towards eventually developing a full-scale, reusable shuttle to send up satellites in the future.

    India faces stiff rivalry, including from global companies which are developing their own reusable rockets after Nasa retired its space shuttle programme in 2011.

    Reusable rockets would cut costs and waste in the space industry which currently loses millions of dollars in jettisoned machinery after each launch.

    Billionaire Elon Musk's SpaceX and Amazon owner Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin have already successfully undertaken their own test launches.

    But ISRO hopes to develop its own frugal shuttle, as it seeks to cash in on a huge and lucrative demand from other countries to send up their satellites.

    ISRO made global headlines in 2013 after it successfully launched an unmanned mission to orbit Mars, spending just US$73 million.

    Nasa had spent US$671 million on its Maven Mars mission.