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ESA experimental spaceplane completes research flight

Vega VV04 IXV Liftoff

ESA experimental spaceplane
The IXV spaceplane built by ESA as a re-entry vehicle capability for future reusable space missions has completed a flawless test and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean just west of the Galapagos islands.

The IXV spaceplane lifted off at 13:40 GMT (14:40 CET, 10:40 local time) on 11 February from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana atop a Vega rocket. It separated from the rocket at an altitude of 340 km and continued up to 412 km before reentry.

The five-metre-long, two-tonne craft decelerate from hypersonic to supersonic speed. The entry speed of 7.5 km/s at an altitude of 120 km created the same conditions as those for a vehicle returning from low Earth orbit.

IXV glided through the atmosphere before parachutes deployed to slow the descent further for a safe splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

The Mission Control Centre at the ALTEC Advanced Logistics Technology Engineering Centre in Turin, Italy, closely monitored IXV during the mission, receiving flight and instrument data from the entire ground network, including the fixed ground stations in Libreville, Gabon, and Malindi, Kenya, and the station on the Nos Aries recovery ship in the Pacific.

The initial results from the flight are expected to be released in around six weeks.

The results will help the Programme for Reusable In-Orbit Demonstrator for Europe, or Pride. The reusable Pride spaceplane would be launched on Europe’s Vega light rocket, orbit and land automatically on a runway.

“IXV has opened a new chapter for ESA in terms of reentry capabilities and reusability,” explains Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA Director General.

“ESA and its Member States, together with European space industry, are now ready to take up new challenges in several fields of space transportation, in future launchers, robotic exploration or human spaceflight.”

ESA experimental spaceplane recovery

“This mission will teach us a lot about the technologies we need to apply in new launch systems, in particular when we think about reusable systems,” said Gaele Winters, ESA Director of Launchers.

“This was a short mission with big impact,” notes Giorgio Tumino, IXV project manager.

“The cutting-edge technology we validated today, and the data gathered from the sensors aboard IXV, will open numerous opportunities for Europe to develop ambitious plans in space transportation for a multitude of applications.”

The launch also allowed the new Vega rocket to show its impressive capabilities, and to confirm its flexibility for a wide range of missions.

Since its introduction in 2012, the launcher has reduced operational costs and delivered its first commercial customers into orbit, as well as demonstrating numerous capabilities such as dual payloads and different orbits.

Today’s mission was the first Vega payload to require an equatorial launch trajectory, instead of travelling northwards as on previous missions. It was also the heaviest payload so far.




ESA experimental spaceplane completes research flight

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