Can India conquer the space race with ISRO’s own space shuttle?

Beyond the Space Shuttle model – the Scramjet Engine

To cut down fuel costs, ISRO will use a completely new type of engine in its RLV. This is called a Scramjet engine. The RLV will be launched using a conventional rocket engine, but when the vehicle reaches supersonic speed atmosphere, the scramjet engine will take over.

In a Scramjet, air enters into the engine through the inlet at supersonic speed. The inside of the engine is shaped in such a way that, the air gets compressed as it passes through the engine. When air is compressed, it heats up. At this point, liquid fuel is injected into the stream of hot and compressed air.

How a scramjet engine works (Image credit: Wikipedia)
How a scramjet engine works (Image credit: Wikipedia)

This hot and compressed air, when mixed with fuel, becomes highly combustible. This mixture is then ignited and the resulting combustion generates very high amount of thrust.

Since a scramjet engine uses Air from atmosphere for combustion, it does not need an onboard Oxidizer tank, reducing fuel weight by 50%. Moreover, when a scramjet engine is moving through the atmosphere, it can additionally collect and liquefy oxygen from the atmosphere and can store it to use at orbital altitudes outside earth’s atmosphere.

That’s huge – surely, someone else has done it before?

No space or military agency in the world has an operational scramjet powered rocket or aircraft at this moment.

On 28th August 2016, ISRO successfully tested its first scramjet engine, and became the third country in the world after USA and China to successfully test fly a scramjet powered vehicle.

ISRO’s test of Scramjet engines on 28-Aug 2016. (Image credit: ISRO)
ISRO’s test of Scramjet engines on 28-Aug 2016. (Image credit: ISRO)

So, what next?

ISRO will conduct a series of tests in future before the RLV is ready for actual missions.

The Next mission will be for testing the landing capabilities of the RLV in an actual runway. The RLV will be taken to very high altitude by a regular rocket and will be dropped. The mission of the RLV will be to fly like an aircraft and land safely in a Runway. ISRO plans to build a 4 km long runway in Sriharikota for this purpose.

Followed by the landing experiment (LAX), two more tests will be done to test the return from space capability (REX) and Hypersonic Flight capability (HEX1).

ISRO envisions to make the RLV ready for actual missions by 2030 when it will be able to carry satellites (and even humans) to orbit.

As per ISRO, the RLV will be able to cut down the cost of transporting payloads to space by $500 or 35000 rupees per kilogram. That is nearly 1/10th of the current cost.

Currently no country in the world has a reusable spacecraft, since  NASA’s space shuttle retired. Several governments and private organizations are working on their own reusable space program. If ISRO is successful with the RLV project, it will definitely put India at a very competitive place on the Space Race..



Manas Saha

Manas is a software engineer who is also a Travel addict, Technology and News enthusiast, and has deep interest in Science, Photography and Movies.

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