[Photo Source: ISRO]

On May 23, India successfully launched an unmanned mini prototype space shuttle called the Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD), joining the world race to develop the first low-cost reusable spacecraft.

According to BBC India, the 22-foot (7m) scale model took off from Andhra Pradesh and was expected to fly about 43 miles into the atmosphere before coming down to Earth into the Bay of Bengal.

According to  Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) announcement, in this successful experimental mission, the HS9 solid rocket booster carrying RLV-TD lifted off from the First Launch Pad at Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota at 07:00hr IST.  After a successful flight of just over 90 seconds, burn out occurred, following which both HS9 and RLV-TD (mounted on its top,) coasted to a height of about 34 miles (56 km). At that height, RLV-TD separated from HS9 booster and further ascended to a height of about 40 miles (65km).

From that peak altitude of  just over 40 miles, RLV-TD began its descent followed by atmospheric re-entry at around Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound). The shuttle’s Navigation, Guidance and Control system accurately steered the vehicle during this phase for a safe descent.

“After successfully surviving a high temperatures of re-entry with the help of its Thermal Protection System (TPS), RLV-TD successfully glided down to the defined landing spot over the Bay of Bengal, at a distance of about 450 km [280 miles] from Sriharikota, completing its mission,” The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) announced  May 23.

The vehicle was successfully tracked during its flight from ground stations at Sriharikota and a shipborne terminal. Total flight duration from launch to the landing of this mission of the delta-winged RLV-TD lasted for about 770 seconds.

Despite operating with a budget of $1 billion—five percent of NASA’s $17.6 billion annual budget—ISRO has launched a number of successful space exploration initiatives over the last seven decades. Most notably, in September 2014, ISRO launched an orbiter on to Mars, making it the fourth agency to do so after the United States, the Soviet Union, and the European Union. ISRO accomplished this on a mere $75 million budget—just 11 percent of what it cost NASA