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India Eyes New Spaceplane Concept

Weighing only 25 tonnes - 60 per cent of which is liquid hydrogen fuel - Avatar is said to be capable of entering into a 100-km orbit in a single stage and launching satellites weighing up to one tonne.
New Delhi - August 8, 2001
Indian rocket scientists claim to have designed a reusable space plane, dubbed Avatar, which they plan to use for launching satellites at very extremely low cost and taking tourists on rides into space The Times of India has reported.

According to the report, work on Avatar, has been conducted under tight security due to its military potential. In early July, the project was publicily announced in the United States by retired Air Cmdr Raghavan Gopalaswami, a former chairman of India's Bharat Dynamics Limited and the central figure behind the project which is being financed by India's Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO).

The project team includes scientists from DRDO - which has designed various missiles for India's defence forces including the Agni and Prithvi missiles. In addition, another Hyderabad-based company CIM Technologies is participating in the project.

The Times of India report says that the Avatar uses a unique design that enables the spaceplane tp produces its own fuel in flight and has been patented in India. Applications for registration of the design have also been filed with patent offices in the United States, Germany, China and Russia.

Weighing only 25 tonnes - 60 per cent of which is liquid hydrogen fuel - Avatar is said to be capable of entering into a 100-km orbit in a single stage and launching satellites weighing up to one tonne.

Taking off horizontally like a conventional airliner, Avatar will use a combination of turbofan, ramjet and scramjet engines to reach a cruising altitude of 10 kilometres before a cryogenic rocket engine takes over for the final push into space.

The mission over, it de-orbits, re-enters the atmosphere and lands on own power like an airplane. A single Avatar can perform 100 such missions in its life, which means 100 tonnes of payload in space.

According to the report, the critical feature of Avatar is that it does not carry any liquid oxygen at take off. Instead, the entire 21 tonnes of liquid oxygen required for the rocket flight will be produced during an initial hour long cruise through the atmosphere - where at eight times the speed of sound, Avatar will suck in air before separating the oxygen and liquifying it for storage.

Mr Gopalaswami told The Times of India that rather lifting satellites, the spaceplane can be fitted out to carry passengers, and that no special training would be needed, as "it would be like going in a Boeing 747."

Moreover, a trip into space on an Avatar would cost only a fraction of the $20 million that Dennis Tito paid Russia earlier this year for his trip on a Soyuz to the International Space Station.

Although all concepts used in Avatar have been mathematically proven and an engineering design has emerged, Gopalaswami told The Times of India that India would not be able to buuld Avatar alone and that international cooperation for both financing and technology would be essential if Avatar was to become a reality.

Meanwhile, the Avatar team in India will go ahead with a scaled down version called "mini-Avatar" and weighing just three tonnes at take off. To be built by CIM technologies in about five years, mini-Avatar will not go into space but will demonstrate all technologies used in Avatar including oxygen collection.

"It will use technologies available within the country," Gopalaswami said including the core engine Kabini developed for a light combat aircraft.

Gopalaswami said the idea for Avatar originated from the work published by the Rand Corporation of the United States in 1987. "They threw the report into archives. It came to me as anunclassified document and formed the basis for our approach," he told The Times of India. Related Links
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Japan Tests Reusable Rocket Vehicle
Tokyo - August 8, 2001
ISAS has conducted second flight test campaign of reusable rocket vehicle test (RVT) since 9 to 26 June at ISAS's Noshiro Testing Center in the northern part of Japan main island.