Pushpak Viman: Second Test For India’s New Reusable Spaceplane

Named Pushpak Viman, like the flying ship of the Ramayana God Kuber, the RLV (Reusable Launch Vehicle) made its second autonomous flying test on Mar. 22, 2024

On Mar. 22, 2024, the second test (RLV-LEX-02) of the Indian reusable vehicle RLV (Reusable Launch Vehicle) took place successfully. Renamed Pushpak Viman, like the legendary flying ship of the God of wealth Kuber present in the Ramayana, it is a technological demonstrator that prefigures the future Indian mini-shuttle capable of operating in orbit and landing autonomously, a bit like the Chinese Shenlong and the US X-37/B.


The RLV tests

The first autonomous flight of the RLV took place on Apr. 2, 2023, when an IAF (Indian Air Force) helicopter transported the small spaceplane, a scale version of the definitive spaceplane, to an altitude of 4.5 km above the military base of Chitradurga, in the federal state of Karnataka.

The RLV, already aligned with the runway head, performed a perfect descent, landing perfectly in the center of the runway. The onboard control equipment, all of Indian production, compensated for the effects of the wind by keeping the glide path constant.

RLV-TD suborbital test. May 23,2016: Credit: ISRO
RLV-TD suborbital test. May 23, 2016: Credits: ISRO

The second test, which took place on Mar. 23, 2024, also took place in the experimental area of Chitradurga Airport. Transported to an altitude of 4.5 km, this time it was released with an unusual attitude and orientation.

The vehicle, thanks to small control jets and aerodynamic surfaces, autonomously carried out all the maneuvers necessary to position itself in a stable position and align itself perfectly with the correct glide path. Furthermore, the final speed was kept above 250 km/h to simulate the return to Earth from an orbital flight.

The success of the second experiment must be added to the suborbital test carried out on May 23, 2016, where an HS-9 booster launched from the Sriharikota space center transported an RLV to 65 km altitude which re-entered the Indian Ocean at a speed of Mach 3.9.

RLV “Pushpak Viman” scheme. Credit: ISRO
RLV “Pushpak Viman” scheme. Credits: ISRO

The RLV Pushpak Viman is 6.5 meters long with a wingspan of 3.5. The final version should not differ from the dimensions of the X-37/b or the Shenlong.


India’s ambitious space program

Some question the importance of space activities in a developing nation. For us, there is no ambiguity of purpose. We have no imagination to compete with economically advanced nations in exploring the moon or planets or with manned space flight. But we are convinced that, if we want to play a significant role at the national level and in the community of nations, we must be second to none in applying advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society.”

— Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai

With these words, many years ago the father of Indian astronautics, Vikram Sarabhai, stigmatized the importance for a developing country of pursuing limitless ambitions in the scientific field which will have positive consequences for the well-being of the entire population.

ISRO’s Launch Vehicle Mark-3. Credits: ISRO
ISRO’s Launch Vehicle Mark-3. Credits: ISRO

Today, these prophetic words are finding their fulfillment: ISRO, the Indian space research organization, carries out one of the most advanced space programs in the world. In just a few decades, from the Rohini suborbital rockets transported on bicycles, we have moved on to automatic stations on the Moon and Mars.

It is a natural consequence to think of an autonomous reusable vehicle, but if necessary also with crew transport capacity, to face the space challenges of the second half of the 21st century.


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Roberto Paradiso

Roberto Paradiso

Banker with a passion for cosmonautics, he tells in his blog, "Le storie di Kosmonautika" and in the book "Noi abbiamo usato le matite!" the history and stories of the Soviet and Russian space program and the people who made it.

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