India muscles into Musk and Bezos territory with mini space shuttle launch

India successfully launched its first model space shuttle on Monday, a top official said, as New Delhi joined the race to develop a reusable rocket to make space travel easier and cheaper. The winged shuttle blasted off on a rocket from the southeastern spaceport of Sriharikota at about 7:00am (0130 GMT), with television footage showing it streaming through a clear sky. The shuttle, about one sixth the size of a normal one, was meant to reach an altitude of 70 kilometres (43 miles) before gliding back down and splashing into the Bay of Bengal 10 minutes later.

We have successfully accomplished the RLV mission as a technology demonstrator.

India’s space chief Devi Prasad

Monday’s test mission was a crucial step towards eventually developing a full-scale, reusable shuttle to send up satellites in the future. India faces stiff competition including from global companies which are developing their own reusable rockets after NASA retired its space shuttle programme in 2011. Billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Amazon owner Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin have already successfully undertaken their own test launches. But ISRO hopes to develop its own frugal shuttle, as it seeks to cash in on a huge and lucrative demand from other countries to send up their satellites.