India makes space history with successful space shuttle launch on a shoestring

The Indian Space Research Organisation's mini-shuttle cost only €12.5m to build

India launched yesterday morning its first ever space shuttle as the country made a giant leap to establishing itself as a player in the 21st century space race of reusable spacecraft.

The shuttle, measuring only 6.7m in length compared to NASA’s retired shuttle’s 37m, was constructed as part of the Indian Space Research Organisation’s ambitious ‘Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator’ programme. The mini-shuttle cost $14m (€12.5m), compared to the billion-dollar price tag attached to NASA’s Endeavour craft.

The 1.75-tonne un-manned spacecraft travelled 43 miles above the Earth’s surface before descending back to the planet. While this first shuttle was not expected to survive the landing, with ISRO scientists expecting it to burn up during re-entry, but scientists revealed they managed to steer it into a soft descent into the Bay of Bengal, where it was recovered floating in the sea.

ISRO has gained a stellar reputation for shooting for the stars on a shoe-string budget, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi once quipping that in 2014 a single ISRO rocket managed to launch four satellites into orbit at a lower cost than the production budget of the movie Gravity.

Founded in 1969, the organisation made headlines around the world when it managed to send an unmanned rocket into orbit around Mars at a cost of $73m – compared to NASA’s $671m price tag for its Maven Mars mission.

The success of that mission was greeted with immense national pride in India, which became the first Asian country to make it to the Red Planet, ahead of its closest rivals China.

You can see more photos from the triumphant ISRO launch in the gallery below: