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Modi’s Mini-Shuttle Set to Blast Into Elon Musk’s Race for Space

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Bradley James
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India is set to launch a scale model of a reusable spacecraft on Monday, a project that in time could pit the nation against billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk in the race to make access to space cheaper and easier.The winged vessel -- one-fifth of full size -- is due to blast off on a rocket from Sriharikota base on the southeastern coast, reach an altitude of 70 kilometers 43 miles and glide back at supersonic speeds to Earth for a splashdown in the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Space Research Organisation said.India put a probe into Mars orbit in 2014 for just $74 million, demonstrating a combination of technological capability and low costs that chimes with the goal of more frequent space travel being championed by Musk s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and Bezos s Blue Origin LLC.

"India plans to spend about 75 billion rupees $1.1 billion on its entire space program in the year through March 2017, a fraction of the yearly $19-billion-dollar budget of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the U.S.

The reusable space vehicle is supposed to provide a cost-effective and reliable option for operations such as launching satellites, according to the Indian space agency.

An unmanned mission to the moon that ended in 2009 showed water formation there may be occurring.

The Mars probe beat China to the red planet after an almost yearlong voyage.Prime Minister Narendra Modi controls the Department of Space, whose successes give the premier an opportunity to market India as a destination for high-technology investment.The nation remains about eight years away from a full-scale version of the reusable space vehicle, and still has to cross the hurdle of steering the vessel safely back to land rather than water, according to the Indian space agency.Musk s SpaceX in December pulled off a soft, vertical touchdown after the two-stage rocket propelled its payload.

Less than month earlier, Bezos sent one of his test rockets to the edge of space and landed it safely back on Earth.

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