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Reusable Rockets critical for Space tourism and Space security

Launch cost has always been the primary constraint in the space business. If access to space weren’t so expensive we’d have an astounding amount of entrepreneurial activity in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and beyond. Engineers have found two competitive solutions to reduce the access to space, by using reusable launch vehicles (RLVs), and using spaceplanes. Spaceplane is a winged vehicle that acts as an aircraft while in the atmosphere and as a spacecraft while in space. The companies like Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance are demonstrating the other solution the reusable rocketry.


Blasting things into space has been expensive because rockets cost tens of millions of dollars and fly once before burning up in a free fall back through the atmosphere. Thus each space flight required the construction of a new rocket, hardly the most cost-effective model. Most of the cost of a rocket launch is in its first stage. But now rockets can make an upright landing and be refueled for another trip, setting the stage for a new era in spaceflight. With the success with Blue Origin’s New Shepherd and SpaceX’s Falcon 9, the concept of reuse is already proven and we should expect this development to continue, with a major impact from rockets with long-range and heavy-lift capabilities in the next decade.


NASA have calculated that commercial launch costs to the International Stations has been reduced by a factor of 4 over the last 20 years. The corresponding number for commercial launch costs to LEO orbit is 20, from the $54,500/kg cost of NASA Space shuttles to $2,720/kg and $1,410/kg for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 (2010) and Falcon Heavy (2018). Although this reduction is caused by many factors, including changes in design, development and manufacturing processes, a significant component of the reduction can be attributed to the use of the reusable instead of expendable hardware. If this can be done regularly and rockets can be refueled over and over, spaceflight could become a hundred times cheaper. The advent of reusable rockets promises to drastically reduce the cost and, in turn, would open the door to many new endeavors in space including  space travel  drive development of satellite megaconstellations used for communication and Earth Observations.


Military interest in reusable rockets

“In an era of declining budgets and adversaries’ evolving capabilities, quick, affordable and routine access to space is increasingly critical for both national and economic security”, says DARPA. Current satellite launch systems, however, require scheduling years in advance for an extremely limited inventory of available slots. Moreover, launches often cost hundreds of millions of dollars each, due in large part to the massive amounts of dedicated infrastructure and large number of personnel required.


Outgoing Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) chief Gen. John Hyten, the new chief of U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), believes reusable rockets can play a role in preventing a Space Pearl Harbor, or a disabling attack against the United States in space. Simberg, who worked on advanced concepts coming out of the Space Shuttle program at Shuttle-prime contractor Rockwell International, said the Air Force is stuck in a high-cost satellite paradigm where launch reliability is paramount. Nobody wants to go and testify before Congress on how they dropped a rocket on someone’s head because they tried something new,” commercial space advocate and industry consultant Rand Simberg said in a recent interview.


One problem is that the Air Force is simply not ready to track multiple launch vehicles in the sky at once. Outgoing Air Force Space and Missile Command (AFSMC) chief Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves said, via a spokeswoman, that the fly-back aspect of reusable rockets drives new capabilities needed to protect the public from multiple vehicles in flight simultaneously. Rock, via another spokeswoman, said the Air Force is exploring the additional use of phased array technology and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) platforms to increase its multiple object tracking capabilities. However, Rock said, the key limiting factor is the capacity to send destruct commands to multiple vehicles to protect the public should any rockets become errant.


Some of the key technologies impacting the development of reusable rockets are

  • Autonomous controllers and sensors used to perform propulsive landings
  • Parachutes to reduce speeds after entering the atmosphere
  • Airbags to absorb the shock when landing on hard surface
  • Autonomous barges serving as landing platforms for rockets performing vertical propulsive landings at sea
  • Special purpose ships equipped with giant nets to catch smaller rocket parts like fairings.


SpaceX’s Falcon 9

SpaceX, led by billionaire Elon Musk, has demonstrated a number of landings, on both land and sea, of its Falcon 9 first stage. Since SpaceX successfully landed a Falcon 9 rocket in December 2015, the company has returned about 70 additional rockets and re-flown a booster 49 times. During the same time period, SpaceX’s main competitor, United Launch Alliance, has flown its expendable Atlas V rocket 26 times.


SpaceX is flying rockets to deliver cargo to the International Space Station at half the cost of an Atlas V launch. The company believes that once it has worked out the kinks and assembled an adequately large fleet of reusable craft, it may be able to further lower the price of a launch to as little as $700,000. NASA, too, agreed to fly future crewed missions to the International Space Station—beginning with the Crew-2 spaceflight in the spring of 2021—on used Falcon 9 rockets. And the US Space Force said it would launch its GPS III satellites on used boosters in the future as well.


SpaceX  Falcon 9 is a Two Stage to Orbit system (TSTO). The rocket uses a conventional engine, where oxygen carried on-board is mixed with the fuel within a combustion chamber and burned to generate a high pressure gas, that is exhausted through the nozzle to generate the thrust. The 2nd stage, separates at about 80 km from launch and proceeds towards deployment of its payload. The first stage returns back and makes the vertical landing and will eventually be re-used. Elon Musk has already said that he does not plan to recover the 2nd stage, as most of their missions are in the Geo-Stationary Transfer Orbit, 35,000 km, and ends up being too difficult to balance fuel, and build quality to support a recovery.


SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said the company could expect a 30 percent cost savings from reusing the first stage. If this translated into a 30 percent price reduction to customers, that would drop Falcon 9’s advertised price to $42.8 million from today’s $61.2 million. Musk has said the first-stage engine could be reused dozens of times. Jefferies assumes it is used 15 times.


For their next-generation launch rocket, Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), SpaceX aims for 100% reusability. BFR is planned to be available around the mid 2020s, with potential for a variety of applications such as launching satellites, and carrying cargo and crew to space stations, the Moon and Mars. Elon Musk has even suggested that the BFR could be used for high-speed travel between earth destinations, carrying out any long-distance flights in less than 1 hour at a speed of 27000km/h.


SpaceX’s planned BFR, or Big Falcon Rocket, is designed to carry 200 passengers and their belongings back and forth between Earth and Mars, as part of the plan Musk revealed last year to reach the red planet within a decade. It has the capacity to transport about 150 metric tons to low Earth orbit — nearly 40 metric tons more than the Boeing 747-400 jet can haul and a whopping 127 metric tons more than the space shuttle could carry. At the right price, the BFR has enough capacity to make interplanetary commerce possible.


In the meantime, reusable rockets could change terrestrial travel. At the International Aeronautical Congress in September 2017, Musk announced Earth-to-Earth rocket service that could offer roughly 30-minute flights between most any two cities on the planet. The flight from New York to London, for instance, would be 29 minutes, while a trip from New York to Shanghai would take 39 minutes. To comply with noise ordinances, launch and landing operations would probably take place outside the cities. It’s no coincidence that SpaceX has put so much effort into landing its boosters on drone ships at sea, even though onshore landings are much cheaper.


The success of Falcon 9 has triggered a global race to develop reusable rockets

The success of Falcon 9 has triggered a global race to develop reusable rockets.


Blue Origin

The other, Blue Origin, led by another billionaire in Jeff Bezos, has also made a handful of first stage landings of its own. Blue Origin intends to fly its New Glenn reusable rocket for the first time before the end of the decade.


Blue Origin founder and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos predicts we’ll have 1 trillion humans in the solar system one day. Blue Origin’s aim is to lower the cost of access to space, Bezos said.  U.S. Air Force selected Blue Origin and others to develop a domestic launch system prototype. The Pentagon deal awards Blue Origin $500 million for the development of the New Glenn rocket. “We are going to continue to support the [Department of Defense],” Bezos said. “If big tech companies are going to turn their back on the U.S. Department of Defense, this country is going to be in trouble.”


The company is developing technologies to enable private human access to space with the goal to dramatically lower costs and increase reliability. Blue Origin is employing an incremental approach from suborbital to orbital flight, with each developmental step building on its prior work.


Their suborbital rocket New Shepherd is designed to take astronauts and research payloads past the Kármán line at 100km altitude, the internationally recognized boundary of space. The whole voyage will take 11 minutes, with the crew capsule returning to ground with parachutes. This New Shepard rocket uses fins, drag breaks and a powerful liquid rocket engine (BE-3) to reduce speed down to 8km/h for landing: a feature described by Blue Origin as gentle for potential space tourists1. While the New Shepard is just for suborbital use, Blue Origin plans to build reusability into their next heavy-lift rocket, New Glenn, which is currently being built.


Initially focused on sub-orbital spaceflight, the company has built and flown a testbed of its New Shepard spacecraft design at their Culberson County, Texas facility. The first developmental test flight of the New Shepard was 29 April 2015. The uncrewed vehicle flew to its planned test altitude of more than 93.5 km (307,000 ft) and achieved a top speed of Mach 3 (2,284 mph; 3,675 km/h). Another flight was performed on 23 November 2015. The vehicle went just beyond 100 km (330,000 ft) altitude, and both the space capsule and its rocket booster successfully achieved a soft landing.


Blue Origin launched New Shepard to a target altitude of 351,000 feet (106,984 meters), Bezos said after the launch in April 2018. That’s almost 66 miles (107 km), slightly higher than the company’s typical target of 62 miles (100 km), the altitude widely accepted as the boundary of space. “Apogee of 351,000 feet (66 miles, 107 kilometers), and that’s the altitude we’ve been targeting for operations,” Bezos said on Twitter after the launch. “One step closer.” This marked the second flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard 2.0 vehicle (after a successful December 2017 test launch) and eighth test flight overall for the company’s New Shepard program. An earlier version of New Shepard launched a series of missions in 2015 and 2016 before it was retired.


Blue Origin’s New Shepard 2.0 space capsule is designed to fly six passengers on suborbital space tourism flights — trips that reach space but don’t orbit Earth — and can also carry commercial payloads and experiments. It has six large windows to give paying passengers wide views of Earth from space. However, Blue Origin has not yet announced the price of a ticket to fly on New Shepard.


Meanwhile, Blue Origin is busy developing a larger rocket called New Glenn that will launch missions all the way to orbit from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in the 2020s. Like New Shepard, the heavy-lift New Glenn rocket will be reusable and fly people into space


Electron of Rocket Lab

Electron is the second most frequently launched U.S rocket annually, delivering mission success for commercial and government satellite operators. Rocket Lab is seeking to increase its production capabilities with reuse, too. Electron is the only reusable orbital-class small rocket. Capturing and reflying Electron’s first stage enables higher launch frequency without expanding production and lowers launch costs. Neutron features a reusable first stage designed to land on an ocean platform, enabling a high launch cadence and decreased launch costs for customers. By reusing a first stage once, Rocket Lab cofounder Peter Beck said the company could double his production capability and catch up to customer demand.


Relativity Space, the 3D-printing rocket builder, is making another big bet: Developing a fully reusable rocket, designed to match the power and capability of SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rockets. Called Terran R, the reusable rocket is “really an obvious evolution” from the company’s Terran 1 rocket, Relativity CEO Tim Ellis told CNBC – the latter of which Relativity expects to launch for the first time later in 2021.


ONERA, a aerospace-focused French defense research group similar to the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in the U.S., is working with the French space agency CNES and ArianeGroup to figure out how reusability can be achieved in Europe. “At the beginning the question with reusability was is it feasible?” recalled Gérard Ordonneau, the director of launch programs ONERA’s space division. “SpaceX showed that it is feasible to land a stage and reuse it.”


Prometheus is Europe’s first ultra-low-cost reusable rocket engine demonstrator fuelled by liquid methane. It will benefit Europe’s new Ariane 6 launcher in the near-term and prepare for a new generation of European launch vehicles in the next decade. This is a 1000 kN class engine; further development will soon bring this up to 1200 kN. It is highly versatile and reignitable, making it suitable for use on core, booster and upper stages, reusable or not. It aims to slash costs through an extreme design-to-cost approach, new propellant and innovative manufacturing technologies.


Additive layer-by-layer manufacturing of Prometheus enables faster production, with fewer parts. Liquid oxygen–methane propellants are highly efficient and widely available and therefore a good candidate for a reusable engine. A full-scale demonstrator will be fired in France at the end of 2021 to de-risk the Prometheus first test campaign at the DLR German Aerospace Center in Lampoldshausen, Germany, expected in 2022. Prometheus will be used on Themis (a reusable first stage demonstrator developed within FLPP) as part of an incremental inflight demonstration of reusability first in Kiruna, Sweden in 2023, and then in Kourou, French Giuana in 2025. A Prometheus concept based on liquid hydrogen fuel is also in development to provide an alternative to methane and could be available for use on Ariane 6 as early as 2025.


ArianeWorks is a collaboration of a multitude of space actors, like rocket manufacturer Ariane Group and the French Space Agency, CNES. The platform’s goal is to build a multiple-engine first-stage rocket cable of launching vertically and landing by the launch site. Themis is the reusable first-stage rocket powered by multiple Prometheus engines, carrying Callisto, a hopper vehicle responsible for the vertical landing. Themis rocket looks a lot like SpaceX’s Falcon 9, not to mention the multiple engines technology with the thrust of a hundred tons each. While SpaceX’s Merlin 1D engines are fueled by kerosene, ArianeWorks’ Prometheus uses liquid oxygen and methane. Ordonneau said ONERA is working with CNES on Callisto, a small rocket designed to practice Falcon 9-style vertical recovery — what in Europe is called a “toss back” — that “could lead to an evolution of Ariane 6.”


A Spanish space startup is designing a set of rockets that it hopes will be the first reusable launch vehicles from a European company. PLD Space’s approach to reusability involves a combination of passive and active braking to recover the rocket’s first stage for reuse. Torres said the company wants to use parachutes to slow the initial reentry, followed by a propulsive landing. This combination is necessary, he said, in order to effectively recover light-lift vehicles.


“We saw since the beginning that for very small rockets, the option of propulsive landing like SpaceX or Blue Origin maneuvers is not easy to do,” he said. “In this case, size matters.”The suborbital Arion 1 would be the first to test out these reusability technologies. Torres said the launcher’s first flight would likely only use parachutes; propulsive landing would make its debut on the third flight. Progress with proving reusability for Arion 1 will pave the way for Arion 2, if all goes according to plan.


In early November, PLD Space announced that ESA had selected the company to lead a project called LPSR, or Liquid Propulsion Stage Recovery, as part of the agency’s Future Launchers Preparatory Program (FLPP). The progress made within LPSR will feed directly into the development of Arion 1, a suborbital rocket for microgravity payloads weighing between 100 and 200 kilograms, and Arion 2, an orbital rocket with a baseline lift capacity of 150 kilograms to low Earth orbit.



Russian Foundation for Advanced Studies (FPI) announced in June 2018 that  it would be developing a reusable rocket capable of flying back down to Earth like an airplane. A press release from FPI, a research agency based on the American Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), included a description of the rocket’s design. “The first stage of the rocket will separate at an altitude of 59-66 kilometers and return to the launch area by landing on a usual runway,” said project manager Boris Satovsky in the statement. The release added that flight tests are scheduled for 2022.


The Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities, Russia’s space agency, has announced an interest in reusable rockets after their successful redeployment by SpaceX. “The innovations SpaceX is making are forcing us to work on lowering the cost price and raising the product quality,” Roscosmos chief Igor Komarov told Interfax.


“We are running pilot projects in the sphere of retrievable components,” he went on to say. “We have engines which can work a multiple number of times, for example Engine 191 and the engine for Angara [rocket]. We will also be using the potential of retrievable rocket components.” The Angara family is Russia’s latest rocket series, introduced in 2014. Meant to compete on a global stage, it won its first commercial bid last year with the South Korean government.


The Progress Space Rocket Center is ready to start work on developing a full-fledged conceptual design of a rocket with a reusable stage. “Considering the experience accumulated to date, the Progress Space Rocket Center is ready to develop a full-scale conceptual design of a promising space rocket system with a launch vehicle and a reusable stage,” the Progress Space Rocket Center CEO Dmitry Baranov told TASS said.


The work on a methane-powered rocket with a reusable stage has been going on since 2015, the chief of the Progress Space Rocket Center said. The issue of reducing the new carrier rocket’s weight will be resolved by way of “optimally distributing primary structural elements in the stage’s design,” the chief executive said. “Also, the stage’s weight improvement depends to a larger extent on the parameters of the powerplant – in this regard, specialists of the Progress Space Rocket Center are actively working with the developer of the promising oxygen-methane engine,” he stressed. The Progress Space Rocket Center is exploring the possibility of eventually using composite materials for fuel tanks in the upper stages, he added.


China’s fully and partially reusable space rockets

China’s January 2022 white paper titled, “China’s Space Program: A 2021 Perspective,”
stated that China would, “continue to strengthen research into key technologies for
reusable space transport systems, and conduct test flights accordingly.” had outlined space
transportation development plans, which included plans to develop low-cost, reliable
access to space, including reusable launch vehicles and a spaceplane

Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST) and Beijing-based China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) are two major institutes under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the country’s state-owned main space contractor.

CALT manufactures the large, kerosene-liquid oxygen Long March 5 and 7 rockets and is also developing the kerolox super heavy-lift Long March 9. CALT officials have also presented concepts for reusable, methalox launchers and a methane-powered version of the Long March 9.

The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), another CASC subsidiary, is meanwhile working on a larger Long March 8 rocket with similar VTVL capabilities for its first stage and, possibly, boosters.  In Sep 2018,  CASC also used a parafoil on the payload fairing for the first time for the launch of the Haiyang-1C satellite, with the aim of improving accuracy of its return to Earth and potentially eventual reusability.

A China National Space Administration (CNSA) official said that the development of reusability of rocket stages and boosters is mainly related to ‘safety’, rather than stating the economics of launch as a factor. Safety most likely refers to the fact that three of China’s four most used national launch sites are deep inland, and debris often threatens populated areas, despite precautions, with launches from Xichang proving particularly hazardous.

The ‘Long March 6X’ is one of the first attempts China is making at developing reusable rockets, having witnessed the game-changing rise of the American SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket which can land and reuse its first stage. The Long March 6 itself is a 29m-high small launch vehicle based on the 3.35m-diameter boosters developed as a strap-on booster for the Long March 5 heavy-lift launcher, China’s largest and most powerful rocket. According to a SAST press release the Long March 6X, capable of vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) and multiple reuse, will be able to reduce launch costs by around 30 percent.

paper published in the journal Aerospace Technology outlines SAST’s plans under consideration. A first generation of three launch vehicles with reusable first stages would have diameters of 3.35, 4.0 and 7.0 meters, powered by clusters of five, seven-to-nine and 9-22 “Longyun” 70-ton-thrust engines. Second stages would use vacuum-optimized versions of the engine.

The paper states that the technologies needed for a first generation of reusable launch vehicles, including grid fins, navigation guidance and control, and reusable, restartable engines, has advanced to the point of being ready for flight demonstrations. Tests would include low velocity and low altitude flights, building up to 100-kilometer-level launches.

The 3.35m version is to be capable of lifting 2,500 kilograms to a 700-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit (SSO), while the 4.0m variant—a size chosen to meet the maximum which can be transported to China’s inland launch sites—could launch up to 6,500 kg of payload to a similar orbit.

The 7.0 meter version is planned to be able to launch more than 20,000 kg to 700 km SSO, while requiring new launch facilities and an offshore platform for recovering the first stage.

SAST is also eyeing a second generation methane rocket for which both stages would be reusable and be capable of delivering 100,000 kg to low Earth orbit. The rocket would have a diameter of 9-10 meters, similar to the Long March 9, and use 25-28 200-ton-thrust, closed-cycle engines on its first stage. The second stage would feature 6-9 engines.

Chinese startup LinkSpace in 2019 completed its third test of a reusable rocket in five months, stepping up the pace in China’s race to develop a technology key to cheap space launches in an expected global boom in satellite deployment. LinkSpace’s RLV-T5 rocket blasted off in a desert in western Qinghai province at 0230 GMT. It flew as high as 300 meters (984 feet) before returning to the launchpad on its own after 50 seconds, CEO Hu Zhenyu, 26, told Reuters. The Beijing-based company aims to launch its next-generation RLV-T16 that will be capable of reaching an altitude of up to 150 kilometers, Hu said. The RLV-T5 previously hovered 20 meters and 40 meters above the ground in two tests in March and April respectively.


CASC has stated in a 2017 ‘space transportation roadmap’ outlined in 2017 that it is working towards reusability for all its launchers by the mid-2030s, but these efforts are in their infancy. China is developing a system to recover parts of rockets used in space launches to bring down costs and make its space programme more commercially competitive, according to researchers involved in the project. The system would bring the rocket engine and booster safely back to the ground so they can be reused in future launches. Besides saving operational costs, the recovery would also reduce the threat of debris falling to the ground, the researchers said.


The recovery system is under development at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology in Beijing. It involves using a set of multiple parachutes, which are stored in the first stage of the rocket, which is released from the rest of the craft before it burns its way through the Earth’s atmosphere. An airbag inflates under the discarded part of the rocket, which cushions impact when it finally hits the ground. The technology differs from the system used by the commercial company SpaceX on its Falcon 9 rockets.


As the first stage of Falcon 9 falls back to Earth, its engines reignite when it reaches a speed of 3km per second, slowing it down to reduce impact as it lands vertically on the ground. in an article on the academy’s website, Deng Xinyu, a researcher on the Chinese rocket recovery programme, said that vertical landing involved many challenges and was extremely difficult to achieve.


China’s next-generation crew carrier is also reusable for up to 10 flights, with a detachable heat shield built to handle higher-temperature returns through Earth’s atmosphere, such as those a capsule would encounter on a re-entry from a lunar mission. The short-duration orbital test flight this week is expected to conclude with a re-entry and landing in remote northwestern China, perhaps as soon as one day after its launch on the Long March 5B rocket. Few details about the test flight have been released by the Chinese government.


The Xinhua news agency reported the primary purpose of the crew capsule test flight is to verify the ship’s re-entry technologies, such as its heat shield and recovery system. The capsule will return under parachutes and inflate airbags to cushion its landing on solid ground. The Shenzhou landing module also returns under parachutes, but uses rocket thrusters to soften the blow of landing. That makes for a rougher ride for passengers. With its propulsion and power module, the crew spacecraft measures nearly 29 feet (8.8 meters) long. It will weigh around 47,600 pounds (21.6 metric tons) fully loaded with equipment and propellant, according to the China Manned Space Engineering Office, or CMSEO.


Australia’s Spartan

University of Queensland (UQ) and Heliaq Advanced Engineering of Australia are working on a project to deliver small satellite payloads weighing from 50 to 500 kg (110 to 1,102 lb) into orbit. Spartan has planned three-stage project, the first stage consisting of a reusable rocket booster called the Austral Launch Vehicle (ALV). This would launch vertically carrying the upper stages of a rocket to scramjet take-over speed of Mach five before releasing them at an altitude of around 25 km (15 mi). The ALV would then deploy a swiveling, oblique wing and nose-mounted piston engine to return to base using wings and propellers.


The hydrogen-fueled second stage SPARTEN scramjet accelerates to Mach 10, releasing the rocket-powered third and final stage at an altitude of around 40 km (25 mi) before it glides back to base for a conventional landing. The combination of the ALV and SPARTAN allows 95 per cent of the system to be reusable. Partnering with Australian-based Heliaq Advanced Engineering, the team is developing sub-scale versions of the ALV and SPARTAN as technology demonstrators. The launch of subscale demonstrator (ALV-0) with a three-meter wingspan on 23 December 2015 marked the first successful use of the Austral Launch Vehicle (ALV).


“Working in partnership with Brisbane-based start-up companies Heliaq Advanced Engineering, and Australian Droid and Robot, we’ve designed a rocket system that can be re-used,” Professor Smart said. “It is a rocket booster in the usual sense, but instead of falling into the ocean once it has done its job, it deploys wings and a propeller motor, so it can safely return to base.



Russian Foundation for Advanced Studies (FPI) announced in June 2018 that  it would be developing a reusable rocket capable of flying back down to Earth like an airplane. A press release from FPI, a research agency based on the American Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), included a description of the rocket’s design. A little over a year since the successful flight test of the first prototype of the futuristic Reusable Launch Vehicle – Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD), ISRO is gearing up for a second go. Only this time, the prototype will ‘land’ on land instead of water.



Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman S Somanath said that India has plans to design and build a new reusable rocket for the global market that would significantly cut the cost of launching satellites. ISRO, Somanath said, has been working on various technologies, including the one demonstrated with Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (IAD). “We will have to have a retro-propulsion to land it (rocket back on earth)”.

ISRO is taking forwards its remarkable progress on the Reusable Launch Vehicle-technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD), Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), will be carrying out a key landing experiment (LEX) in April. According to a media report, the proposed LEX will push RLV-TD closer to an Orbital Re-entry Experiment (ORE). The planned landing experiment will be carried out in Challakere in Chitradurga district, some 220 km from Bengaluru.

A little over a year since the successful flight test of the first prototype of the futuristic Reusable Launch Vehicle – Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD), ISRO is gearing up for a second go. Only this time, the prototype will ‘land’ on land instead of water. The unmanned RLV-TD comprises a space shuttle-like component fitted atop a booster rocket. The first RLV-TD weighing 1.5 tonnes, was successfully launched from Sriharikota on May 23  2017  that splashed down in the Bay of Bengal from a height of 64.8 km.


Work is progressing at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) here on the second RLV-TD. A senior officer associated with the project said the RLV-TD will almost be a ditto version of the first scaled-down RLV-TD with the only exception being it will have landing gear. ISRO sources said it may take another year for the model to be ready. They said the present plan is to launch the RLV-TD from Sriharikota and land it on an undisclosed Air Force airfield in the eastern sector. This is yet to be finalised though, they said.


While VSSC is primarily responsible for building the RLV-TD, the navigational equipment are being provided by the ISRO Inertial Systems Unit in Thiruvananthapuram and ISRO’s Satellite Applications Centre, Ahmedabad. Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd is responsible for the landing gear.


In fact, ISRO plans a series of TDs before attempting to build a fully-fledged vehicle that can be reused for launching satellites. A subsequent TD will possibly involve a slightly larger vehicle which will place a nano-satellite in the orbit. The vehicle, once ready, will be used to launch satellites and possibly humans as well, into space.


ISRO will make dead rocket come ‘alive’ in space

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has revealed plans to develop reusable rocket-launch technology this decade. The Indian Space Research Organisation is working on a new technology where it will use the last stage of the PSLV rocket for space experiments.

Isro chairman K Sivan said, “Normally, the last stage of a PSLV rocket after releasing the primary satellite in space becomes dead and categorised as debris. Now, we are working on a new technology where we will give life to this “dead” last stage of PSLV for six months. This will be the most cost-effective way to perform experiments in space as we don’t have to launch a separate rocket for the purpose.” He said that “India is the only country in the world that is working on this new technology”


Explaining the process, former Isro chairman and space expert A S Kiran Kumar told TOI, “The last stage usually keeps tumbling in the same orbit without any control where it has released the satellite. To keep it stabilised, we will keep additional fuel in a separate compartment without disturbing the original configuration.”


On the stage lifespan, he said, “Soon after releasing the satellite, the last stage keeps falling and finally it enters the atmosphere and burns out. By inserting batteries and a solar panel, we can increase its lifespan for months by making it communicable from the ground station. It can then be used for as a platform for experiments like microgravity tests. He said, “Students don’t need to launch a full-fledged satellite. They just need the instruments with which they want to do experiments and attach them with the last stage. The instruments will be powered by the last stage.”



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