The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has successfully conducted a runway test landing of a developmental reusable spacecraft.
The work took place on 2 April at the Aeronautical Test Range in Karnataka state, and involved ISRO’s unmanned Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV).
A Boeing CH-47F Chinook helicopter of the Indian Air Force lifted the RLV to an altitude of 14,700ft, at which point the RLV was released.
“The autonomous landing was carried out under the exact conditions of a space re-entry vehicle’s landing —high speed, unmanned, precise landing from the same return path— as if the vehicle arrives from space,” says ISRO.
It adds that the aircraft’s low lift-to-drag ratio means that it approached at a steep angle, landing at a high speed of 189kts (350kph).
RLV's autonomous approach and landing pic.twitter.com/D4tDmk5VN5— ISRO (@isro) April 2, 2023
ISRO says the entire autonomous landing was conducted with indigenous technology. Work prior to the flight involve extensive wind tunnel tests and computer simulations.
ISRO claims that the lifting of a winged body to this altitude by a helicopter, and its subsequent landing on a runway, represents a world first.
Outwardly, the RLV resembles the Boeing X-37, a secretive reusable space vehicle operated by the USA. The X-37 is lofted into space by a rocket and can spend months in orbit before landing on a runway.