Science & Tech

RLV LEX, ISRO’s Reusable Launch Vehicle Mission

At the Aeronautical Test Range in Chitradurga, Karnataka, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) performed a successful autonomous landing mission experiment for a Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV).

What is a Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV)?

  • RLVs are spacecraft that are intended to be reused multiple times for launching payloads into space, as opposed to conventional rockets, which are discarded after a single launch.
  • They are seen as a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly choice for space launches because they eliminate the need to manufacture new rockets for each mission.
  • They are usually made up of a reusable orbiter, similar to a space shuttle, and a reusable booster that provides the initial thrust required to launch the orbiter and payload into space.
  • Following the discharge of the cargo into orbit, the orbiter and booster return to Earth and land on a runway, where they can be refurbished and reused for future launches.

Why developing RLV is a big feat?

  • RLV development necessitates advanced technologies such as heat-resistant materials to safeguard the spacecraft during re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.
  • Advanced landing guidance and control devices
  • Reliable launch and landing power systems

The RLV-TD programme of ISRO

  • ISRO is working on key technologies for a fully reusable launch vehicle that will allow low-cost access to space.
  • The RLV-TD is being used to test technologies such as hypersonic flight (HEX), automated landing (LEX), return flight experimentation (REX), powered cruise flight, and Scramjet Propulsion Experimentation. (SPEX).
  • It has the appearance of an aircraft, with a fuselage, a nose cap, double delta wings, and two vertical tails.

Development of RLV

(1) First RLV experiment:

  • The RLV-TD was launched into orbit in 2016 on a rocket powered by a traditional solid booster (HS9) engine.
  • The spacecraft re-entered Earth’s orbit at a speed of Mach 5 and went 450 kilometres before splashing down in the Bay of Bengal.
  • Autonomous navigation, guidance, and control, reusable thermal protection systems, and re-entry mission management were all verified successfully.

(2) Second RLV experiment:

  • On April 2, 2023, a Chinook Helicopter lifted the RLV LEX to a height of 4.5 km before launching the RLV.
  • Following its midair release, the RLV performed an autonomous landing on the Aeronautical Test Range airstrip, simulating the arrival of a Space Re-entry Vehicle.
  • It achieved landing parameters comparable to those encountered by an orbital re-entry space vehicle on its return route.

Benefits of RLVs

  • Reusable launch vehicles are regarded as a low-cost, dependable, and on-demand method of access to space.
  • Using RLVs, the expense of a launch can be reduced by nearly 80% of its current cost.

RLV systems around the world

  • NASA space shuttles have completed dozens of human spaceflight trips.
  • Since 2017, SpaceX, a private space launch services company, has displayed partially reusable launch systems with its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets.
  • SpaceX is also developing Starship, a completely reusable launch vehicle system.
  • Several private launch service providers and government space organisations are collaborating to create reusable launch systems.


  • RLVs have the potential to greatly reduce the cost of space launches, as the need to manufacture new rockets for each mission accounts for a large portion of the cost of traditional rockets.
  • The expense of each launch can be greatly reduced by reusing spacecraft.
  • Furthermore, because RLVs can be launched on demand rather than having to be manufactured and assembled for each mission, they can provide greater flexibility and dependability for space launches. 
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