ESA spaceplane a model for future reentry craft

June 17, 2015, European Space Agency
ESA Pavilion, at Paris Air and Space Show, on 15 June 2015. Credit: ESA–P. Sebirot

The February flight of ESA's Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle is yielding invaluable insights and results for future reentry craft.

The spaceplane, being displayed this week at the Paris Air and Space Show, looks in remarkably good condition and shows only moderate damage from its blazing journey through the atmosphere.

All of the flight hardware and data were recovered: telemetry and onboard recordings are complete and consistent from the various sensors.

ESA project manager Giorgio Tumino discussed the first results in a briefing today/yesterday at the show: "Europe has solid expertise in getting to space and operating in space, and now also in returning from space. IXV is helping to fill the gaps in our knowledge."

IXV was launched on a remarkable 100-minute journey on 11 February. Its flawless suborbital flight of some 25 000 km, including 8000 km in a searing atmospheric descent and safe splashdown at the targeted spot in the Pacific Ocean, tested critical reentry technologies.

Continuing analysis of the data is yielding important information that will allow ESA's aerothermodynamics experts to check their computer reentry models against observed reality. Future reentry missions can now be more precisely designed with narrower error margins.

IXV results have confirmed many assumptions but also produced new findings. External temperatures were lower than predicted, fuel consumption was higher than expected but compensated for by better aerodynamic performance, and the shorter blackout time during reentry allowed better communications.

ESA’s IXV reentry vehicle mission. Credit: ESA

The infrared camera at the back of the vehicle monitoring the flap temperatures recorded unprecedented data throughout the reentry to splashdown. Engineers are also evaluating the reusability of all the craft's components.

IXV results will help the Programme for Reusable In-orbit Demonstrator for Europe – Pride – take the next step with limited risk and financial effort for Europe.

Now that the results from IXV's flight are becoming available, Pride's mission and system definition is ready to begin, along with early readiness of critical technologies. Those results will be submitted for approval at ESA's next Council Meeting at Ministerial level in 2016.

ESA spaceplane a model for future reentry craft
The infrared camera at the back of the ESA’s Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle monitoring the flap temperatures recorded unprecedented data throughout the reentry to splashdown on its 100-minute mission on 11 February 2015. Credit: ESA

With a payload capacity of 300 kg, Pride will serve as an orbital platform to test technologies for multiple applications. These include not only future European space transportation, such as future reusable launcher stages, but also Earth observation and science, robotic exploration, servicing of orbital infrastructures, and microgravity experiments.

Pride will focus on verifying system and technology performance under all flight conditions: hypersonic, supersonic, transonic and subsonic.

Explore further: ESA recovers IXV spaceplane

Related Stories

ESA recovers IXV spaceplane

March 30, 2015

ESA's recovered IXV spaceplane arrived at the Port of Livorno in Italy yesterday and is set to be taken to Turin for final analysis.

ESA's spaceplane is coming home

February 25, 2015

ESA's IXV spaceplane, launched on a Vega rocket on 11 February, is now on its way to Europe for detailed study in Italy.

Vega ready to launch spaceplane

January 19, 2015

On its first launch of the year, Europe's Vega rocket will loft ESA's unmanned spaceplane to test reentry technologies for future vehicles.

ESA's spaceplane set for flight

July 16, 2014

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

What's new about Europe's reentry mission?

February 6, 2015

ESA's experimental spaceplane, poised for liftoff on Vega, is set to showcase the latest technologies and critical systems to extend Europe's capability for space exploration.

Image: ESA's Vega rocket with IXV payload

February 3, 2015

ESA's Vega rocket, with IXV on top, now awaits its fourth flight with liftoff on 11 February at 13:00 GMT (14:00 CET) from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

Recommended for you

Team creates high-fidelity images of Sun's atmosphere

July 18, 2018

In 1610, Galileo redesigned the telescope and discovered Jupiter's four largest moons. Nearly 400 years later, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope used its powerful optics to look deep into space—enabling scientists to pin down ...

Martian atmosphere behaves as one

July 18, 2018

New research using a decade of data from ESA's Mars Express has found clear signs of the complex martian atmosphere acting as a single, interconnected system, with processes occurring at low and mid levels significantly affecting ...

NASA's new mini satellite will study Milky Way's halo

July 18, 2018

Astronomers keep coming up short when they survey "normal" matter, the material that makes up galaxies, stars and planets. A new NASA-sponsored CubeSat mission called HaloSat, deployed from the International Space Station ...

Supersharp images from new VLT adaptive optics

July 18, 2018

ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) has achieved first light with a new adaptive optics mode called laser tomography—and has captured remarkably sharp test images of the planet Neptune and other objects. The MUSE instrument ...


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.