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.
IXV's sleek lifting body hull gives a clue to its purpose: this November it will be launched 320 km into space on top of a Vega rocket, climbing up to 420 km before beginning a long glide back through the atmosphere.
In the process, IXV will gather data on reentry conditions to help guide the design of future spaceplanes.
IXV arrived at ESTEC in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, last week.
The spaceplane will now undergo a rigorous test campaign to confirm it is ready for flight. ESA's centre is the largest satellite testing facility in Europe, with everything needed to recreate every aspect of the launch and space environment under one air-conditioned roof.
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