Space missions involving humans require a better understanding of various phenomena happening in space environments. A number of experiments need to be conducted in microgravity for addressing various issues encompassing safety (primarily fire) and better understanding of fluid and material behaviour. Of the various methods used for obtaining microgravity conditions, drop towers offer ground based microgravity platform. They provide a cost effective platform for doing short duration, repeatable, high quality microgravity experiments. This paper describes key factors that influence the design of a drop tower. The salient features of 2.5 s microgravity tower set up at National Centre for Combustion Research and Development (NCCRD), IIT Madras (IITM) are discussed. Primary features of the three critical elements, namely the drop capsule, the release unit and the decelerator unit are described along with review of these elements in existing drop towers. The IITM drop tower operates in ambient atmospheric conditions to minimise the cost of operation. In order to achieve good quality microgravity levels, a dual capsule configuration is adopted. The shape of the outer capsule is arrived at by detailed transient computational fluid dynamic analysis of the drag shield under free fall condition over the drop height. A pneumatic mechanism is used for capsule release and brought to rest at the end of fall in a carefully designed decelerator unit. The decelerator unit consists of an airbag with controlled air outflow for smooth deceleration. © 2018, Springer Nature B.V.