Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk may have thought they had the galactic market covered with Blue Origin and SpaceX, but they just got a new competitor in space.
In a challenge to the two billionaires and their attempts to reinvent space travel, India—the country—launched a scale model of a reusable spacecraft on Monday, Bloomberg reports.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said it successfully launched its Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD) on the back of an HS9 solid rocket booster at 7 a.m. local time from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, on the country’s southeastern coast.
The RLV is a winged, shuttle-like vehicle, and the demonstrator launched Monday is a one-fifth scale model, Bloomberg says.
After taking off, the vehicle rose to a height of about 40 miles, the ISRO said, before descending at a speed of some Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound) before making a safe splashdown in the Bay of Bengal about 280 miles from where it took off. The entire trip took just short of 13 minutes.
India Prime Minister Narendra Modi immediately celebrated via Twitter the launch of “India’s first indigenous space shuttle,” which he attributed to “the industrious efforts of our scientists.”
Whether India will be able to successfully move from scale models to full-sized spacecraft and compete with Musk and Bezos (and NASA) remains to be seen. But India has a long history in space flight. The country first launched a rocket into space in 1963 and launched its first satellite 12 years later.
According to Bloomberg, India plans to spend about $1.1 billion on its space program by March 2017. That’s a large sum, but far less than NASA’s annual budget of about $19 billion per year. Still, it’s a start.
“While India’s effort is behind the likes of SpaceX and Blue Origin, there are still others further behind and all of the solutions remain to be proven, both technically and from a cost perspective,” David Wireman, an aerospace specialist at consultancy AlixPartners, told Bloomberg. “Although the technical hurdles are quite high, it’s reasonable to believe India can be successful.”