Bringing back our spaceplane

Jun 25, 2014
On the 23 June 2014 a prototype of the suborbital IXV Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle was recovered off the coast of Tuscany, Italy in a practice run for the launch of the real spacecraft in November. The prototype was carefully hoisted onto the recovery shipNos Ariesand into its container. Credit: Neri - Livorno (I)

Yesterday, the ship and crew aiming to recover Europe's unmanned IXV spacecraft in November had a practice run off the coast of Tuscany, Italy.

They retrieved a prototype of the suborbital IXV Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle, the same model flown last year in a splashdown test off the east coast of Sardinia.

A crane dropped the two-tonne vehicle into the water for the crew to practise the tricky manoeuvres they will use when the real thing splashes down in the Pacific Ocean later this year. The rehearsal even allowed for an upside-down splashdown.

A crew from the Italian company NERI were operating the recovery ship Nos Aries while the prototype was carefully hoisted aboard and into its container. This model, its work done, will now be taken to ESA's Technical Centre in the Netherlands for display.

Launched later this year on ESA's Vega rocket from Kourou, French Guiana, IXV will test technologies and systems for Europe's future autonomous atmospheric reentry vehicles.

Descending on its suborbital path, as if returning from low orbit, IXV will use its body to generate lift for flying, controlled only by aerodynamic flaps and thrusters.

On the 23 June 2014 a prototype of the suborbital IXV Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle was recovered off the coast of Tuscany, Italy in a practice run for the launch of the real spacecraft in November. A crane dropped the two-tonne vehicle into the water for the crew to practise the tricky manoeuvres. The rehearsal even allowed for an upside-down splashdown. Credit: Neri - Livorno (I)

It is packed with new technology to collect information on aerodynamics, aerothermodynamics, materials, structures, mechanisms, guidance, navigation, control and avionics.

The experimental flight will end with IXV transmitting its precious information before splashing down into the most remote region of the Pacific, where Nos Aries will be waiting to retrieve it.

Setting off in mid-summer, Nos Aries will leave Italy to cross the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic. The specialist crew will board in Panama for the month-long journey through the Panama Canal and Pacific.

On the 23 June 2014 a prototype of the suborbital IXV Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle was recovered off the coast of Tuscany, Italy in a practice run for the launch of the real spacecraft in November. Credit: Neri - Livorno (I)

Before launch, the ship will release weather balloons to check the wind conditions over the Pacific to provide information on IXV's descent path.

If sea conditions allow the launch to go ahead, Nos Aries will receive the flight data from IXV's 300 sensors during descent and then pick up the beacon signals to pinpoint the craft after splashdown.

Divers on speedboats will approach the floating craft and then stand back as robotic sniffers check for residual propellant fumes. On the all-clear, the recovery cranes will carefully lift IXV to safety before the fuel tank is cleaned out for the journey home to Europe.

Explore further: NASA's Orion spacecraft is ready to feel the heat

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Vega to fly ESA experimental reentry vehicle

Dec 19, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- The launch of ESA’s IXV Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle on Europe’s new Vega rocket is now in detailed planning, a major step towards the craft’s flight in 2014.

NASA's Orion spacecraft is ready to feel the heat

Jun 06, 2014

(Phys.org) —NASA and Lockheed Martin engineers have installed the largest heat shield ever constructed on the crew module of the agency's Orion spacecraft. The work marks a major milestone on the path toward ...

Orion in final assembly at Kennedy Space Center

May 22, 2014

Lockheed Martin and NASA engineers have started the process of installing the largest heat shield ever built onto the Orion spacecraft's crew module. The heat shield installation marks one of the final steps ...

First Soyuz launch from Kourou to go ahead: Arianespace

Aug 25, 2011

The maiden flight of a Soyuz from Europe's space base will go ahead as scheduled on October 20, as it is a different version from the rocket involved in Wednesday's launch failure by Russia, Arianespace said on Thursday.

Recommended for you

Video: MAVEN set to slide into orbit around Mars

3 hours ago

A NASA mission to Mars led by the University of Colorado Boulder is set to slide into orbit around the red planet this week after a 10-month, 442-million mile chase through the inner solar system. 

Dawn operating normally after safe mode triggered

3 hours ago

(Phys.org) —The Dawn spacecraft has resumed normal ion thrusting after the thrusting unexpectedly stopped and the spacecraft entered safe mode on September 11. That anomaly occurred shortly before a planned ...

Repaired Opportunity rover readies for 'Marathon Valley'

3 hours ago

With a newly cleared memory, it's time for Opportunity to resume the next stage of its long, long Martian drive. The next major goal for the long-lived rover is to go to Marathon Valley, a spot that (in images ...

Image: Rainbow aurora captured from space station

7 hours ago

Auroras occur when particle radiation from the Sun hits Earth's upper atmosphere, making it glow in a greenish blue light. ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst has one of our planet's best views of this phenomenon, ...

Experts: Mystery fireball was Russian satellite

10 hours ago

People from New Mexico to Montana saw the bright object break apart as it moved slowly northward across the night sky. Witnesses described it as three "rocks" with glowing red and orange streaks.

User comments : 0