ESA's spaceplane set for flight

Jul 16, 2014
Artist impression of ESA's Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV). Credit: ESA - J. Huart

(Phys.org) —All eyes are on ESA's spaceplane to showcase reentry technologies after its unconventional launch on a Vega rocket this November.

Instead of heading north into a – as on previous flights – Vega will head eastwards to release the spaceplane into a suborbital path reaching all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Engineers are forging ahead with the final tests on ESA's Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle, IXV, to check that it can withstand the demanding conditions from liftoff to separation from Vega.

Launched in early November, IXV will flight test the technologies and critical systems for Europe's future automated reentry vehicles returning from low orbit. This is a first for Europe and those working in the field are keeping a close watch.

The research and industrial community have the chance to use this information for progress in atmospheric reentry, oriented towards transportation systems with applications in exploration, science, Earth observation, microgravity and clean space.

Jose Longo, ESA's head of aerothermodynamics, said, "The technical advancements that have been made since the first experiments with our Atmospheric Reentry Demonstrator in 1996 are huge."

ESA’s Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle, IXV, has 300 sensors that will gather data during its suborbital path back to Earth. Credit: ESA

"This is the first flight demonstration of features such as highly advanced thermal structures: thrusters and flaps that are part of the control system, and the 300 sensors and infrared camera to map the heating all along the spacecraft from the nose to the flaps. These things just cannot be tested in the same way in laboratories."

"The fact that ESA's IXV will be launched on Vega makes this a fully European mission," noted Stefano Bianchi, ESA's head of launchers development.

IXV weighs almost two tonnes, close to Vega's lifting capacity, and will be a tight fit inside the vehicle's fairing.

"In this mission we are not only monitoring the spacecraft all along its autonomous flight, but also tracking its progress back to Earth to a particular spot – this is different to what we are used to," said Giorgio Tumino, ESA's IXV project manager.

When IXV splashes down in the Pacific at the end of its mission it will be recovered by ship and returned to Europe for detailed analysis to assess the performance and condition of the internal and external structures.

Engineers are forging ahead with the final tests on ESA’s Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle, IXV, to check that it can withstand the demanding conditions from liftoff to separation from its Vega launcher in November 2014. Credit: ESA

The actual performance will be compared with predictions to improve computer modelling of the materials used and the spaceplane's design.

Such is the enthusiasm and interest of industry in the opportunities associated with reentry technologies that the third IXV workshop in ESA's Technical Centre, ESTEC, in Noordwijk, the Netherlands was packed out last week.

"It is very encouraging to see such interest in this programme," added Giorgio. "Follow-up activities to this mission will build on the current industrial organisation and associated technologies will provide opportunities to newcomers."

Explore further: Image: Unboxing IXV spaceplane

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Image: Unboxing IXV spaceplane

Jul 02, 2014

The moment when ESA's IXV Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle is removed from its protective container, safely inside the cleanroom environment of the Agency's Technical Centre.

Bringing back our spaceplane

Jun 25, 2014

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.

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.

Stepping up Vega launcher production

Nov 21, 2013

Such is the success of Europe's Vega small launcher that an order was signed today in Rome for the production of ten more vehicles. These will be launched over three years from the end of 2015.

LEON: The space chip that Europe built

Jan 08, 2013

(Phys.org)—Just like home computers, the sophisticated capabilities of today's space missions are made possible by the power of their processor chips. ESA's coming Alphasat telecom satellite, the Proba-V ...

European Vega rocket launch delayed due to weather

May 04, 2013

The launch Saturday of Europe's lightweight rocket, Vega, from Kourou in French Guiana was put off until an unspecified date because of poor weather conditions at the space base, the European Space Agency ...

Recommended for you

SpaceX's next cargo launch set for Sept 20

Sep 12, 2014

SpaceX's next unmanned cargo trip to restock supplies at the International Space Station is scheduled for September 20, the US space agency said Friday.

Not just cool – it's a gas

Sep 12, 2014

In space, a new way of producing gas is being tested for steering satellites. On Earth, it is now fighting fires without harming the environment – and business insiders say it could be revolutionary.

Solar storm heads Earth's way after double sun blasts

Sep 11, 2014

Two big explosions on the surface of the sun will cause a moderate to strong geomagnetic storm on Earth in the coming days, possibly disrupting radio and satellite communications, scientists said Thursday.

User comments : 0