Earlier today India took a major step forward with its space program by launching its own version of a space shuttle. The unmanned, scaled down version of what will be the final shuttle, called the swadeshi, launched from Sriharikota at 7 am local time and was immediately called a success by ISRO, the Indian equivalent of NASA. It flew to an altitude of 70 kilometers then glided back to the Bay of Bengal, where it “landed” in a spectacular crash on a watery “runway.” It was all per plan – future test flights will incorporate landing gear and touchdown on paved runways.
Some interesting tidbits about this new shuttle:
The shuttle launched today was 6.5 meters long and is a 1/6th scale prototype of what the final will be.
This small version was unmanned, but so will be the final version, at least from a pilot standpoint. Current plans call for it to be able to carry astronauts as “cargo.”
The first fully scaled launch is set to take place around 2030.
Currently, India and the US are the only countries to have a winged reentry vehicle used for non-military purposes. The U.S. has the X-37B, which has been used by the US Air Force for three missions with unknown objectives. Sierra Nevada Corporation is working on their Dream Chaser spacecraft for commercial purposes, but it is not yet operational.
The rocket that launched the shuttle had to be throttled back for a slower ascent to allow for the stresses imparted to the lifting body.
Photo credits: ISRO
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