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‘PUSHPAK’ VIMAN: THE REUSABLE LAUNCH VEHICLE



  Apr 02, 2024

‘PUSHPAK’ VIMAN: THE REUSABLE LAUNCH VEHICLE



India’s ‘Pushpak’ Viman, inspired by the legendary flying chariot from the Ramayana, is a groundbreaking project undertaken by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) aimed at revolutionizing space exploration through reusability. This ambitious project seeks not only to launch missions to space but also to ensure their safe return, akin to the American space shuttle missions. The essence of the ‘Pushpak’ mission is to democratize access to space by drastically reducing costs, thereby making space exploration more accessible and sustainable.

KEY HIGHLIGHTS OF THE ‘PUSHPAK’ MISSION

• Autonomous Operation: ‘Pushpak’ is designed to operate autonomously, emphasizing the importance of a safe landing on all three gears to ensure the vehicle’s integrity upon return.

• Surviving Fiery Re-entry: A major technical challenge is protecting ‘Pushpak’ against the intense heat generated during re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. ISRO is exploring advanced heat-resistant materials and re-entry profiles to navigate this hurdle successfully.

• Cost Reduction: The current cost of launching a payload into space ranges between $12,000 and $15,000 per kilogram. ‘Pushpak’ aims to reduce this to $500 - $1,000 per kilogram, leveraging recoverable and reusable systems alongside more efficient propulsion technologies, such as air-breathing rockets.

DEVELOPING ‘PUSHPAK’: FOCUS AREAS

1. Powerful Engine Technology: The focus is on the scramjet engine, which utilizes the vehicle’s high-speed movement to compress incoming air for combustion, reducing the need for carrying heavy oxidizers. This innovation is expected to lower both the liftoff mass and associated costs.

2. Re-entry Management: Managing the intense heat during re-entry is crucial. ISRO’s test flights, including one that reached an altitude of 65 km and re-entered at hypersonic speeds, have been instrumental in validating ‘Pushpak’s design and heat management capabilities.

3. Precision Landing: The autonomous landing capability of ‘Pushpak’ was demonstrated through the RLV Landing Experiment (LEX), which tested the vehicle’s navigation, control, and guidance systems under off-nominal conditions.

INNOVATIONS AND TECHNOLOGIES

• Advanced Navigation Systems: Technologies such as pseudolite systems, Ka-band radar altimeters, indigenous NavIC receivers, and innovative landing gear systems are integral to ‘Pushpak’s success.

• Controlled Descent: Features like aerofoil honey-comb fins and brake parachute systems are employed for a controlled descent and landing.

The ‘Pushpak’ mission is a step toward making space missions more cost-effective and sustainable by showcasing the potential for reusing flight hardware and systems. With plans for further experimental flights, including the Orbital Return Flight Experiment (OREX) and the Scramjet Propulsion Experiment (SPEX), ISRO is paving the way for the development of a two-stage orbital launch vehicle. This development represents a significant milestone in India’s space exploration efforts, highlighting a future where space becomes more accessible to the world.



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