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India successfully launches reusable shuttle prototype

Test flight marks important development in low-cost space program

ISRO

India's space agency has successfully launched a reusable mini shuttle model into space, marking an important development in its low-cost space program. An unmanned prototype of the Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV-TD) launched Monday morning from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, the BBC reports, reaching an altitude of 43 miles before returning to Earth. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) announced that the launch was successful on its website.

The RLV-TD had been in development for more than 10 years, on a reported budget of just $14 million. The 7-meter (23-foot) model that launched today is about six times smaller than the final version, which the ISRO aims to launch within a decade. The 1.75-ton prototype is not expected to survive the test flight, but is expected to gather data on autonomous navigation, hypersonic speed, and reentry management, according to the ISRO.

Space agencies in Europe, Japan, and Russia are all developing reusable shuttle technology, in the hopes of saving costs and resources, as are companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin. India has been investing heavily in its low-cost space program, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying the country could become a leader in supplying spaceflight technology. In 2014, India became the first Asian country to put a spacecraft in Mars' orbit, at a cost of $74 million.