On Monday, the Indian Space Research Organization India s version of NASA launched a 22-foot winged spacecraft to an altitude of 65 kilometers about 40 miles and navigated the vehicle back down into the Bay of Bengal, east of India.
The entire mission lasted less than 13 minutes and didn t travel high enough to reach space, but it was an important step for the Indian space agency on the path to making launches more affordable.
RLV-TD will undergo four experimental flights, the first of which was completed on Monday: hypersonic flight experiment HEX followed by the landing experiment LEX , return flight experiment REX and scramjet propulsion experiment SPEX .
ISRO is still many years away from a commercially available version of RLV-TD, but the fact that they re joining the likes of Blue Origin, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and XCOR in an effort to develop a reusable vehicle is a sign that the entire industry is shifting away from traditional expendable designs.
At just 22 feet in length, the RLV-TD pales in comparison to NASA s massive, human-rated 122-foot Space Shuttle Orbiter which brought astronauts into Low Earth Orbit for 30 years.
Regardless, this week s successful mission marks an exciting milestone for India, one of the few countries that allocates significant resources to space exploration activities.