India's budget mini space shuttle blasts off (Update)

ISRO made global headlines in 2013 after it successfully launched an unmanned mission to orbit Mars, spending just $73 million
ISRO made global headlines in 2013 after it successfully launched an unmanned mission to orbit Mars, spending just $73 million
India successfully launched its first mini space shuttle on Monday as New Delhi's famously frugal space agency joined the global race to make rockets as reusable as airplanes.

The shuttle was reportedly developed on a budget of just one billion rupees ($14 million), a fraction of the billions of dollars spent by other nations' space programmes.

The Reusable Launch Vehicle, or RLV-TD, which is around the size of a minibus, hurtled into a blue sky over southeast India after its 7:00am (0130 GMT) lift off.

After reaching an altitude of about 70 kilometres (43 miles), it glided back down to Earth, splashing into the Bay of Bengal 10 minutes later.

The test mission was a small but crucial step towards eventually developing a full-size, reusable version of the shuttle to make space travel easier and cheaper in the future.

"We have successfully accomplished the RLV mission as a technology demonstrator," Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) spokesman Devi Prasad Karnik told AFP.

The worldwide race for reuseable rockets intensified after NASA retired its space shuttle programme in 2011.

They are seen as key to cutting costs and waste in the space industry, which currently loses millions of dollars in jettisoned machinery after each launch.

Internet tycoon Elon Musk's SpaceX and Blue Origin of Amazon owner Jeff Bezos have already successfully carried out their own test launches.

Musk told reporters in April that it currently costs about $300,000 to fuel a rocket and about $60 million to build one.

SpaceX first landed its powerful Falcon 9 rocket in December while Blue Origin's New Shepard successfully completed a third launch and vertical landing in April this year.

But ISRO hopes to develop its own version, primarily to cash in on the huge and lucrative demand from other countries to send up their satellites.

Mission to Mars

The Indian space agency is no stranger to stellar achievements on a shoestring budget.

It made global headlines in 2013 after sending an unmanned rocket to orbit Mars at a cost of just $73 million. NASA's Maven Mars mission had a $671 million price tag.

The launch and its low cost were a source of immense pride in India, which beat rival China in becoming the first Asian country to reach the Red Planet.

K. Sivan, a scientist involved in the latest project, said the seven-metre (23-foot) long shuttle survived the test flight, and scientists hope subsequent models six times as big, to be built over the next decade, will glide safely back to land.

"We have located the place where the vehicle is floating. The landing was soft and the vehicle did not break," Sivan told AFP.

"The mission went off as planned and data from the experiment showed that we have achieved its objectives and demonstrated the RLV technology."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised the "industrious efforts" of ISRO scientists.

"Dynamism & dedication with which our scientists & @isro have worked over the years is exceptional and very inspiring," Modi said on Twitter.

Modi has often hailed India's budget space technology, quipping in 2014 that a local rocket that launched four foreign satellites into orbit had cost less to make than Hollywood film "Gravity".

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© 2016 AFP

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User comments

May 23, 2016
The Indian government seems to have weird priorities. While I don't think that one should aim to solve all social problems before embarking in this kind of undertakings, one should at least try. With more than 600 million Indian citizens, almost half of its population, without access to running water, electricity and sewage, the Indian government is not really trying.

May 23, 2016
@nuncestbibendum: The issues with basic amenities in India is because of corruption not because of ISRO doing their work. In fact India's Space Agency work is so efficient and cheaper, it is helping the economy, farming and forecasting weather for the country. It is one of few organizations in the country or probably in the whole word doing their job greatly and helping the citizens.

As far as poverty is concerned it is coming down quickly. The number of beggars in India are much less than 20 years ago. The main issue India is facing is the lack infrastructure, cities are swelling with population and no distribution of services to the rural areas. This is picking up. The middle class population is increasing, which is a good news. India is one of few economies in the world that is growing at a great pace. Every big company like Apple and Google is running to India to get projects, it is just like good old days, when Alexander, Columbus used to run to India to get wealth.

May 24, 2016
One of India's billionaires recently spent more money on his daughter's wedding than the cost of the country's mission to Mars.

May 24, 2016
I think this has to do more with China than Mars. And Pakistan, always.

Have you ever read the batshit crazy things the current PM says??? Just what you need on top of rampant corruption- a right wing religious fundamentalist that believes all the fairy stories. Look them up, because if I quote him, you simply won't believe me. Read what he said about Ganesh proving that Indians had advanced cosmetic surgery thousands of years ago.

India needs to go seriously French Revolution on the ruling elites.

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