Why Do Reusable Launch Vehicles Lead the Way?

Why Do Reusable Launch Vehicles Lead the Way?

The advent of reusable launch vehicles signifies a monumental revolution in space exploration, offering a standard shift in our journey toward the stars. Through the recycling and revamping of essential elements such as rocket stages and engines, these vehicles transcend the confines of traditional space travel, substantially reducing launch expenses and presenting unprecedented opportunities. However, innovation introduces complexity, necessitating a careful balance between cost-effective recycling and the logistical details of recovery and restoration. Equipped with state-of-the-art technologies, including heat shields and grid fins, these vehicles gracefully navigate the challenges of re-entry.

The Era of Reusable Launch Vehicles

Meanwhile, ground infrastructure like autonomous drone ships and mass drivers streamline operations. As we embark on this reframing journey, the era of reusable launch vehicles marks an essential milestone in humanity's mission to explore the world, encouraging to unlock infinite options in space exploration.

While historical attempts at reusability faltered due to practical and financial constraints, contemporary private initiatives led by companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin are pushing the boundaries of what's possible. Although current models are only partially reusable, advancements are rapidly progressing towards fully reusable systems. These rockets offer undeniable advantages, slashing launch costs, reducing environmental impact, and spurring technological innovation. However, challenges persist, including payload limitations and the need for refurbishment between flights.

Space Cost Revolution


The cost of space launches can change generally depending on numerous features such as payload weight, destination, and the type of rocket used. Currently, a single space launch can span from tens of millions to hundreds of millions of dollars. SpaceX's Falcon 9 launches, for example, are naturally priced at around $62 million each, while larger rockets like the Falcon Heavy may surpass $90 million in cost. NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), on the other hand, reaches a valued cost of over $2 billion per launch. Traditional space travel faces famous challenges, mainly due to the extensive labor hours required for designing, constructing, and testing rockets destined for singular use, which magnifies expenses and restricts the frequency and scale of launches. However, the emergence of reusable launch vehicles offers a promising solution. Unlike disposable rockets, reusable variations can be recovered and relaunched multiple times, resulting in substantial cost reductions.

These advanced rockets join in advanced features such as propulsive landing, modular designs for easy refurbishment, and heat shield technology for re-entry protection. Economically, reusable launch vehicles can offer major savings, potentially decreasing costs by up to 65% compared to traditional rockets. Also, by justifying space debris accumulation and reducing fuel consumption, rocket reusability aligns with environmental sustainability goals. Successful examples like SpaceX's Falcon 9 and Blue Origin's New Shepard demonstrate the potential for increased mission frequency, cost-effectiveness, and environmental responsibility, marking a transformative change in space exploration.

India's Reusable Launch Vehicles Milestone

Recently, India achieved a significant milestone in its quest for a reusable launch vehicle (RLV) with the successful test landing of the RLV LEX-2, named 'Pushpak'. Conducted by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) at the Aeronautical Test Range (ATR) in Karnataka's Chitradurga, the test demonstrated the autonomous landing capability of Pushpak following release from an Indian Air Force helicopter at an altitude of 4.5 km. Pushpak showcased its autonomous navigation and control by approaching the runway from 4 km away, making cross-range corrections en route, and executing a precise landing using its brake parachute landing gear and nose wheel steering system. This achievement marked ISRO's second successful test landing of an RLV, validating indigenous technologies in navigation, control systems, landing gear, and deceleration systems essential for high-speed autonomous landings of space returning vehicles.

The mission, which simulated high-speed landing conditions, underscored ISRO's proficiency in reusing flight hardware and systems. Structural enhancements based on lessons learned from the first test landing were incorporated into RLV-LEX-01, with collaboration from ISRO's Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Liquid Propulsion System Centre, and the ISRO Inertial Systems Unit, along with various government agencies. The success of the mission was credited to the expertise of the team led by key figures such as Sunil P., Programme Director of Advanced Technology and Systems Programme at VSSC, J. Muthupandian, Project Director of RLV, the Mission Director, and B. Karthik, Deputy Project Director of RLV.

Dr S Unnikrishnan Nair, VSSC Director  highlighted that “ISRO's repeated success indicates progress in mastering terminal phase maneuvering, landing, and energy management in fully autonomous mode, crucial for future orbital re-entry missions”.

India's Space Sector Growth

Recent developments in the space industry have led to important growth and investment prospects, both at home and abroad. The Indian government's latest decision to allow 100% Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the satellite sector, in line with the Indian Space Policy 2023, resulted in a remarkable growth in space-related stocks, rising by as much as 7%. Forecasts recommend that the global market for space launches might multiply fivefold, reaching an projected value of US $47.3 billion by 2032. This presents a substantial opportunity for India to bolster its position in the worldwide space economy, which currently stands at only 2% of the total projections.

Final Note

The triumphs highlight India's increasing strength in space exploration and its dedication to advancing state-of-the-art technologies for space missions. As humans strive to explore the universe, the era of reusable launch vehicles is positioned to unleash boundless opportunities and push us deeper into outer space.