Europe readies 'space plane' for sub-orbital test flight

September 9, 2014
A replica of the ESA's space plane IXV is on display during the presentation at the European Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwijk, on September 9, 2014

The European Space Agency on Tuesday put the final touches to its first-ever "space plane" before blasting it into sub-orbit for tests aimed at eventually paving the way to the continent's first space shuttle.

Assembled in Italy, the Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) is undergoing final ground tests at the ESA's headquarters in Noordwijk, north of The Hague, before being shipped to Kourou in French Guiana later this month.

On November 18 the sneaker-shaped IXV will take off aboard ESA's Vega rocket to a height of 450 kilometres (280 miles) where it will go into sub-orbital flight.

Set to fly for 100 minutes, the IXV will then re-enter Earth's atmosphere at a speed of 28,000 km/h over the Pacific Ocean, plunge into the water and then be picked up by a ship.

Bristling with 300 sensors, the IXV will collect myriad data including on what scientists refer to as aerothermodynamics, the heat exchange in gasses and solid surfaces at very high speed, usually supersonic flight.

The data will tell ESA's scientists how the IXV's structure holds up, as well as how its shape performs aerodynamically under extreme conditions.

"The IXV is the starting point and the mission is of huge importance for the future of shuttles for Europe," Giorgio Tumino, the craft's mission manager, told journalists.

"This mission's key objective is to acquire the capability to come back to earth from orbit," he said.

Built from high-tech ceramics and carbon-fibre—as well as ordinary cork—the IXV is 5.0 metres (16 feet) long and 2.2 metres wide, the same size as a medium-sized car.

The plane could be adapted in future to carry astronauts, Tumino told AFP.

The IXV was developed over five years at a cost of 150 million euros ($193 million).

"If Europe for instance wants to bring back astronauts from the International Space Station to the ground, this (test flight) is a fundamental step," Tumino said.

"We cannot put a person on board a spacecraft without testing its capability to survive re-entry into the earth's atmosphere," he added.

Explore further: Image: IXV drop-test model

Related Stories

Image: IXV drop-test model

September 4, 2014

This drop-test model of ESA's IXV Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle will be among the attractions on display at this year's ESTEC Open Day on 5 October.

Image: Unboxing IXV spaceplane

July 2, 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.

ESA's spaceplane set for flight

July 16, 2014

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

Bringing back our spaceplane

June 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

December 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.

Europe launches two navigation satellites

August 22, 2014

Two satellites for Europe's rival to GPS were lifted into space on Friday to boost the Galileo constellation to six orbiters of a final 30, the European Space Agency (ESA) said.

Recommended for you

Making stars when the universe was half its age

January 18, 2019

The universe is about 13.8 billion years old, and its stars are arguably its most momentous handiwork. Astronomers studying the intricacies of star formation across cosmic time are trying to understand whether stars and the ...

Saturn hasn't always had rings

January 17, 2019

One of the last acts of NASA's Cassini spacecraft before its death plunge into Saturn's hydrogen and helium atmosphere was to coast between the planet and its rings and let them tug it around, essentially acting as a gravity ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.