BENGALURU: The news of India's launch of a Reusable Launch Vehicle Technology
Demonstrator (RLV-TD) has been blown out of proportion by the media,
according to a report in "Space Review," an online journal from
Washington devoted to analysing key space issues and events across the
On May 23, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)
launched the RLV-TD, a winged vehicle almost resembling an aircraft, to
an altitude of 65 km and navigated it to descend and land at a
pre-determined spot in the sea.
The Space Review report by Wing
Commander Kiran Nair of the Centre for Airpower Studies in New Delhi
says that while ISRO officials had themselves described the launch as a
"demonstration" and a "baby step" toward building a reusable launcher,
the media went overboard and called the vehicle "India's own Space
Shuttle" and the test flight a "Hanuman Leap."
RLV-TD with the US space shuttle "is totally out of place", the report
says. "While the country is justifiably proud about the test flight,
elevating it to the same level as the Shuttle is premature and
inappropriate. Space Shuttle was a fully operational vehicle. The RLV-TD
is only a test vehicle."
Many other huge differences exist
between the two, and thus it's essential to perceive the RLV in light of
its own competencies and unique Indian purpose, rather than draw unfair
comparisons with the Space Shuttle, it says.
"Simply put, the
test launch does not herald the addition of an Indian Space Shuttle to
ISRO's inventory straightaway. It only marks the beginning of a
technically challenging endeavor."
The report cautions that one
should temper hype with reality "as premature jubilation carries the
hazard of raising expectations unreasonably".
The report has also
raised questions about the affordability of a Space Shuttle for a
country like India, considering the huge investment required.
says the US spent an estimated $192 billion on the shuttle programme
from 1971 to 2010. "The average cost per launch works out to $1.2
billion, which is as much as the total annual Indian space budget. It is
a costly experiment that India can ill-afford."
An Indian missile scientist who did not want to be named, agreed.
funds amounting to billions of dollars will be needed by ISRO for RLV,"
the scientist told this correspondent. "Once the RLV programme gets
support, the clash for funds within ISRO will begin with other projects
in ISRO competing for money," he said.
"The first test flight of
RLV-TD validated ISRO's aerodynamics engineering and their guidance and
control expertise but, beyond that, nothing can be correctly inferred
about the value of this launch."
According to ISRO, an RLV will reduce the cost of launching satellites to one-tenth. The Space Review report says differently.
its numerous achievements, like launching satellites and repairing the
Hubble Space Telescope, the feeling among NASA officials and space
experts was that the US Shuttle failed to lower the cost of access to
space," the report says.
"An analysis showed that the incremental per-pound launch costs turned to be higher than those of regular expendable rockets."
Space planes have not met with much success elsewhere either, the report says.
Hermes space plane was approved in 1987 but cancelled in 1992 due to
funding problems and Japan scrapped its HOPE-X shuttle in 2003, mainly
due to financial reasons. The Soviet Union's Buran programme -- started
in 1974 in response to the US Space Shuttle programme -- was cancelled
in 1993 after just one unmanned orbital spaceflight in 1988.
has no space station and hence the requirement of a human-certified
aerospace plane is some time away. But the RLV certainly has enormous
uses to plug gaps in Earth observation and communications, says the
"Overall," the report says, "disassociating expectations
from the Space Shuttle and viewing the RLV in a uniquely Indian context
makes more sense."
(K.S.Jayaraman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)