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India to test reusable mini-shuttle in May

The competition heats up: ISRO, India’s space agency, this week announced plans to conduct its first test flight of its half-scale prototype reusable launch vehicle in May.

The RLV, is a scaled-down prototype (some 21.3 feet in length or 6.5 meters) of a future uncrewed single-stage reusable spaceplane, known as Avatar, that is being designed by the ISRO. The May mission will be a technology demonstrator (RLV-TD) to test powered cruise flight, autonomous landing and hypersonic flight using an air-breathing propulsion system. The spacecraft, which resembles a small winged aircraft, will be launched from the first launchpad of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre to an altitude of 43 miles (70 km) atop a two-stage Rohini sounding rocket and then released. It will re-enter the atmosphere and travel back to Earth in a controlled descent, to be recovered from the Bay of Bengal. [emphasis mine]

This vehicle is kind of Inida’s version of the Air Force’s X-37B, except that it is also testing a hypersonic scramjet engine, a cutting edge design that the U.S. has barely been able to fly successfully. Should they succeed, it will place them smack dab in the middle of the elite club of space-faring nations.