Avatar (spacecraft)

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Function Unmanned reusable spaceplane
Manufacturer DRDO/ISRO
Country of origin  India
Mass 25 tons [1]
Stages 1
Payload to
Low Earth orbit
1,000 kg (2,200 lb)
Launch history
Status Testing prototypes[2]
Launch sites Satish Dhawan Space Centre
Total launches 0
First flight 2025 (proposed)[3]
First stage
Engines Turbo-ramjet, scramjet and cryogenic
Burn time
Fuel LOX/LH2

Avatar (Sanskrit: अवतार) (from "Aerobic Vehicle for Transatmospheric Hypersonic Aerospace TrAnspoRtation") is a concept for a unmanned single-stage reusable spaceplane capable of horizontal takeoff and landing, by India's Defence Research and Development Organisation along with Indian Space Research Organisation and other research institutions. The mission concept is for low cost military and commercial satellite space launches.[4][1][5]

In January 2012, it was announced that a scaled prototype, called 'Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator' (RLV-TD), was approved to be built and tested.[2] The vehicle is undergoing flight integration at the VSSC before being moved to Bengaluru for acoustic testing and later to Sriharikota for the launch expected to take place in April 2016.[6] The first orbital flight is proposed for 2025.[3]


In Sanskrit, an Avatar (अवतार avatāra) is a deliberate descent of a deity to Earth, or a descent of the Supreme Being.

The idea is to develop a spaceplane vehicle that can takeoff from conventional airfields. Its liquid air cycle engine would collect air in the atmosphere on the way up, liquefy it, separate oxygen and store it on board for subsequent flight beyond the atmosphere. The Avatar, a reusable launch vehicle (RLV) was first announced in May 1998 at the Aero India 98 exhibition held at Bangalore.[7]

Avatar is projected to weigh 25 tons, of which 60% of that mass would be liquid hydrogen fuel.[1] The oxygen required by the vehicle for combustion in outer space would be collected from the atmosphere during takeoff, thus reducing the need to carry oxygen during launch.[1] The notional specification is for a payload weighing up to 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) to low Earth orbit and to withstand up to 100 launches and reentries.[4][1]

If built, Avatar would takeoff horizontally like a conventional airplane from a conventional airstrip using turbo-ramjet engines that burn hydrogen and atmospheric oxygen.[1] Once at a cruising altitude, the vehicle would use scramjet propulsion to accelerate from Mach 4 to Mach 8.[3] During this cruising phase, an on-board system would collect air from the atmosphere, from which liquid oxygen would be separated and stored.[1] The liquid oxygen collected would then be used to burn the stored hydrogen in the final flight phase to attain orbit. The vehicle would be designed to permit at least one hundred launches and atmospheric reentries.[1]


A model of the RLV-TD on the top of a launcher

Avatar is being developed by India's Defence Research and Development Organisation.[4] Air Commodore Raghavan Gopalaswami, who is heading the project, made a presentation on the spaceplane at the global conference on propulsion at Salt Lake City, USA on July 10, 2001.[4][1] Gopalaswami said the idea for Avatar originated from the work published by the RAND Corporation of the United States in 1987.[1]

In January 2012, ISRO announced that a scaled prototype, called Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD), was approved to be built and tested.[2]

Scaled-down tests[edit]

Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle being developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation to demonstrate scram-jet technology.

The aerodynamics characterization of the RLV-TD prototype was done by National Aerospace Laboratories in India. The RLV-TD is in the last stages of construction.

By May 2015, engineers at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) in Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station were installing thermal tiles on the outer surface of the 'RLV-TD', so it can withstand the intense heat during atmospheric reentry.[2] This prototype weighs around 1.5 tonnes and would fly up to an altitude of 70 km.[2] ISRO has tentatively slated the prototype's test flight from the first launchpad of Satish Dhawan Space Centre for February 2016. The RLV-TD will be mounted on top of a two stage Rohini sounding rocket rocket and launched beyond the atmosphere, after which the RLV-TD will separate and reenter the atmosphere while traveling through the hypersonic regime.[8] The rocket is expendable while the RLV would glide back to Earth and fall in Bay of Bengal as there are no airstrips that are 5 km long at desired location that could be used to land such aircraft. ISRO has made detailed reports to construct an airstrip greater than 4 km long in the Sriharikota island and it will be built in near future.[9]

In 2006 Indian Space Research Organisation in a series of ground tests demonstrated a stable supersonic combustion for nearly 7 seconds with an inlet Mach number of 6.[10] A flight test of scram-jet engine is planned in second demonstration flight(ATV-D02) of "Advanced Technology Vehicle"[11] that has a diameter of 0.56 m and a length of ~10 m and take off mass of ~3 tonnes[12] in 2016.[13]

Manned version[edit]

There is a proposal to develop a larger advanced manned version of the spacecraft after the successful deployment of the unmanned SSTO.[14]

See also[edit]

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "India Eyes New Spaceplane Concept". Space Daily (New Delhi). August 8, 2001. Retrieved 2014-10-22. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "India’s Futuristic Unmanned Space Shuttle Getting Final Touches". EXPRESS NEWS SERVICE (Indian Defence Research Wing). 20 May 2015. Retrieved 2015-05-20. 
  3. ^ a b c "Wednesday, August 03, 2011India's Space Shuttle [Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV)] program". AA Me, IN. 2011. Retrieved 2014-10-22. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Indian Scientists unveils space plane Avatar in US". Gujarat Science City. 10 July 2001. Retrieved 2014-10-22. 
  5. ^ "AVATAR- Hyper Plane to be built by INDIA". India's Military and Civilian Technological Advancements. December 19, 2011. 
  6. ^ "ISRO's RLV-TD Project Likely to be Delayed". The New Indian Express. Retrieved 2015-12-28. 
  7. ^ "AVATAR- Hyper Plane to be built by INDIA". Abin Puthiyath. Indian Defence Research. Retrieved 19 December 2011. 
  8. ^ "Reusable Launch Vehicles". Brahmand.com. November 25, 2010. Retrieved 2014-10-22. 
  9. ^ "ISRO Gears up for 6 Major Missions This Year". Express News Service. 30 May 2015. 
  10. ^ "Welcome to VIKRAM SARABHAI SPACE CENTRE - ISRO_Supersonic Combustion Tech". www.vssc.gov.in. Retrieved 2015-12-06. 
  11. ^ "Successful flight testing of advanced sounding rocket - ISRO". www.isro.gov.in. Retrieved 2015-12-06. 
  12. ^ ""Space Transportation Systems: What the future beholds" by Dr. B N Suresh". 2 November 2007. 
  13. ^ "ISRO set to test scramjet engine". The Hindu. 2015-11-28. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 2015-12-06. 
  14. ^ Jan 6, 2015. "Another leap in space: India to test reusable vehicle in March". Arun Ram. Times Of India. Retrieved Jan 6, 2015. 

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