Modular Reusable Rockets for Small Satellite launches

To launch a satellite into space is an expensive undertaking. It is estimated that for every single kg of hardware that is sent to space, 10 times more hardware is expended in the process. The lack of reusability of the launchers makes the entire launch process even more expensive as valuable hardware is expended in the entire process.

Hence, companies worldwide are exploring ways and means to reduce the cost of space launches. One method can be the use of reusable rockets.

What a reusable rocket?

  • Conventionally, a rocket comprises of a central booster and fuel tank and auxiliary secondary rockets.
  • These rockets are used and detached from the main launch vehicle as the rocket attains greater elevation.
  • These rockets and their components are rendered unusable due to their fall.
  • In a reusable rocket, the individual components are recovered back as the launchers are either designed to be autonomous or launched on a trajectory that would take them where they can be recovered.
  • This greatly reduces the cost of space launches as space launch infrastructure can be reused over a longer period of time.
  • Currently, two private companies are working to develop reusable rockets- SpaceX (Falcon 9) and RocketLab (Electron).
  • While the Falcon 9 rocket uses its engines to return to Earth, the Electron will use parachutes to recover back to the Earth?s atmosphere.

Other reusable launchers?

  • Even India’s ISRO has developed plans for a reusable launch vehicle which will be known as the reusable launch vehicle-technology demonstration Program (RLV-TD).
  • The RLV-TD will be a series of vehicles which will be technology demonstraters.
  • The final end product of the RLV-TD will be a Two Stage To Orbit (TSTO) fully re-usable vehicle for more economic space launches.
  • The RLV-TD aims to investigate several modern technologies like hypersonic flight, autonomous landing, powered cruise flight and air-breathing propulsion engines.

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