India’s first space shuttle launches on technology demonstrator mission.

India’s Reusable Launch Vehicle Technology Demonstrator launched from the First Launch Pad at Sriharikota at 7am India Central Time on Monday, May 23. Dubbed HEX-1, for Hypersonic EXperiment 1, the mission is the first in a series of flights that aim to develop technologies for reusable space vehicles.

Launching nearly two and a half hours ahead of schedule, the RLV-TD used the first stage of the SLV-3 launch vehicle, India’s first rocket.

Forty six seconds after liftoff, the 9-ton booster’s solid propellant ran out, and the vehicles rose to an altitude of 59 kilometers (36.5 miles). Once the shuttle was separated from the booster, it continued to rise to a maximum altitude of around 65 kilometers (40.3 miles).

Atmospheric reentry began shortly after, and the hypersonic portion of the test began. ISRO officials said the shuttle successfully reached the ‘virtual runway’ over the Bay of Bengal. Maximum speed was shortly above Mach 5 and total mission time was 12 minutes 50 seconds.

P/c: ISRO.


India prepares for spaceplane technology demonstration mission.

India is preparing for the launch of their Reusable Launch Vehicle technology demonstrator next week. Dubbed HEX-1, for Hypersonic Experiment-1, the 19-foot winged spaceplace will help Indian engineers develop hypersonic reentry technologies, guidance and avionics, and precision landing technologies.

Launch will occur on the first stage of the Satellite Launch Vehicle-3, India’s first domestic rocket last used in 1983. For the flight of HEX-1, the spaceplane will be attached atop the first stage.

Following liftoff, the engineless spacecraft will be accelerated to an altitude of 70 kilometers and a hypersonic velocity of Mach 5. Here, HEX-1 will separate from the rocket and begin atmospheric reentry before coming to land on a virtual runway in the Bay of Bengal.

Although HEX-1 will not be recovered, landing on a virtual runway in the ocean develops the technology needed to bring future versions of the spaceplane on conventional land runways.

India hopes to develop a winged, two-stage to orbit vehicle to deliver crew and payloads into Earth orbit. The RLV program - one sixth the size of the final shuttle -  is the first step towards understanding the concepts needed for such a vehicle. 

The RLV’s second flight, LEX, for Landing Experiment, will see a similar flight profile but with a land-based recovery. Flight three, REX, for Return Flight Experiment, will send the RLV into Earth orbit for a runway landing. It’s fourth and final flight, SPEX, for Scramjet Propulsion Experiment, will use the spaceplane’s hybrid air and rocket scramjet engines, the first use of the propulsion technology on a spacecraft.

Over 600 technicians at ISRO- the Indian Space Research Organisation - have spent the last five years working on the RLV program.

Launch of HEX-1 is scheduled for 9:30am India Standard Time Monday, May 23, or 12am Eastern Daylight Time.

The European Space Agency launched a similar flight last February with the IXV mission. The RLV also shares an appearance similar to the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B spaceplane.


More images of India’s first indigenous space shuttle. The Reusable Launch Vehicle Technology Demonstrator was launched at 7am IST Monday, May 23, from the First Launch Pad at Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota.

The 21.3-foot long, 1.75-ton RLV-TD was used on the HEX-1 flight, which tested hypersonic reentry profiles for reusable, winged spacecraft. Seeing its first use since the late 1980′s, the first stage of India’s first-ever rocket, the SLV-3, was used to boost the vehicle to an altitude of 65 kilometers.

Total mission elapsed time from launch to landing was 12 minutes, and the RLV-TD achieved a maximum speed of around Mach 5.

Check out our introductory story on the RLV-TD/HEX-1 mission here.

Launch photos and story can be seen here!