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ISRO Tests Reusable Launch Vehicle on a Runway

ISRO, the Indian Space Research Organisation, achieved a milestone in its Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstration (RLV-TD) programme on Sunday.

The programme aims to develop a reusable launch vehicle that can reduce the cost of access to space. ISRO performed a landing experiment of the RLV-TD at the Aeronautical Test Range in Challakere, Chitradurga.

The RLV-TD was dropped from a 4.5 km height by an Indian Air Forces (IAF) Chinook helicopter and landed autonomously on the airstrip using an integrated navigation, guidance, and control system.

ISRO stated that this was the first time in the world that a winged body was carried by a helicopter to such an altitude and released for an autonomous landing on a runway.

The RLV-TD resembles an aircraft and has a complex design that combines both launch vehicles and aircraft features. It has a fuselage, a nose cap, double delta wings, twin vertical tails, and active control surfaces called elevons and rudder.

The RLV-TD serves as a flying test bed to evaluate various technologies, such as hypersonic flight, autonomous landing, and powered cruise flight. ISRO plans to scale up this vehicle to become the first stage of India’s reusable two-stage orbital launch vehicle in the future.

This was the second experimental flight of the RLV-TD programme. The first one was conducted on May 23, 2016, from Sriharikota, where the vehicle validated critical technologies such as autonomous navigation, guidance and control, reusable thermal protection system, and re-entry mission management. However, in that mission, the vehicle landed on a virtual runway over the Bay of Bengal.

On May 23, 2016, the RLV-TD had a successful flight test from Sriharikota that confirmed the performance of key technologies such as self-navigation, guidance and control, reusable heat shield, and re-entry mission management.

The vehicle touched down on an imaginary runway over the Bay of Bengal during this mission.

This landing experiment on Sunday morning is the second one in the sequence of experimental flights for the programme.

The main goal of developing the RLV technology is to lower the cost of reaching space.

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