Published on: April 4, 2023

Reusable Launch Vehicle Mission

Reusable Launch Vehicle Mission

Why in news? Indian Space Research Organisation and its partners successfully demonstrated a precise landing experiment for a Reusable Launch Vehicle at the Aeronautical Test Range (ATR), Chitradurga, Karnataka.


  • The Reusable Launch Vehicle Autonomous Landing Mission (RLV LEX) test was the second of five tests that are a part of ISRO’s efforts to develop RLVs, or space planes/shuttles, that can travel to low earth orbits to deliver payloads and return to earth for use again.
  • An IAF Chinook helicopter was used to drop the RLV-TD and the ISRO executed the landing experiment of the RLV-TD.

What is ISRO’s RLV TD project?

  • According to ISRO, the series of experiments with the winged RLV-TD are part of efforts at “developing essential technologies for a fully reusable launch vehicle to enable low-cost access to space”.
  • The RLV-TD will be used to develop technologies like hypersonic flight (HEX), autonomous landing (LEX), return flight experiment (REX), powered cruise flight, and Scramjet Propulsion Experiment (SPEX).
  • In the future, this vehicle will be scaled up to become the first stage of India’s reusable two-stage orbital (TSTO) launch vehicle.

How old is the RLV project?

  • One of the first trials of an RLV was announced by ISRO as far back as 2010, but was put off due to technical reasons. Another was hinted at in 2015 but was again grounded over technical issues.

What was the difference in the two tests?

  • The first test with RLV-TD (HEX1) involved the vehicle landing on a hypothetical runway over the Bay of Bengal while the LEX experiment involved a precise landing on a runway.
  • The LEX mission achieved the final approach phase that coincided with the re-entry return flight path exhibiting an autonomous, high speed (350 km per hour) landing.
  • Three more experiments — return flight experiment (REX), powered cruise flight, and Scramjet Propulsion Experiment (SPEX) have to be conducted.

What are its advantages?

  • With the costs acting as a major deterrent to space exploration, a reusable launch vehicle is considered a low-cost, reliable, and on-demand mode of accessing space.
  • Nearly 80 to 87 percent of the cost in a space launch vehicle goes into the structure of the vehicle. The costs of propellants are minimal in comparison.

How advanced are RLV technologies globally?

  • Reusable space vehicles have been in existence for a long time with NASA space shuttles carrying out dozens of human space flight missions.
  • The use case for reusable space launch vehicles has revived with the private space launch services provider Space X demonstrating partially reusable launch systems with its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets since 2017.
  • SpaceX is also working on a fully reusable launch vehicle system called Starship.
  • Several private launch service providers and government space agencies are working on developing reusable launch systems in the world alongside ISRO.