ESA’s “Mini Spaceplane” Set For Takeoff

The Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) is designed to better inform European scientists on how space objects re-enter the atmosphere.

The data collected by the wedge-shaped craft could help engineers in planning for re-usable rockets or even Mars landers. The IXV will be launched from French Guiana on Wednesday using a Vega rocket, flying eastwards before coming back down in the Pacific Ocean. The European Space Agency (ESA) says that launch is planned for 10:00 a.m. local time, writes Jonathan Amos of the BBC.

ESA's "Mini Spaceplane" Set For Takeoff

Improving ESA re-entry technology

The Vega rocket will carry the IXV to 450 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, before it begins to descend, reaching speeds of 7.5km/s. The craft will be controlled using flaps and thrusters so that it lands as close as possible to a recovery ship west of the Galapagos Islands. Towards the end of the hour and 40 minute flight a parachute system will be deployed to ensure a soft landing.

The IXV is supposed to develop ESA understanding of re-entry technologies, which is currently more limited than the U.S. or Russia.

“Europe is excellent at going to orbit; we have all the launchers, for example. We also have great knowhow in operating complex systems in orbit. But where we are a bit behind is in the knowledge of how to come back from orbit. So, if we are to close the circle – go to orbit, stay in orbit, come back from orbit – this third leg we need to master as well as other spacefaring nations,” said ESA’s project manager Giorgio Tumino.

Pride missions already planned

IXV contains a huge amount of sensors which will collect data designed to inform materials research and improve computer models of re-entry. The data will be sent back before splashdown in case the craft is lost due to an incident.

ESA already has plans for a further project known as Pride (Programme for Reusable In-orbit Demonstrator in Europe), which is also a re-entry vehicle. This version, however, will have the ability to land on a runway, similar to the X-37B mini shuttle, the mysterious craft operated by the U.S. military.

Details about its missions are top-secret but it is thought to be used in the testing of new technologies for satellites, a role which ESA’s Pride could also fulfill. Pride could also be used to service existing satellites in-orbit, but ESA nations still need to properly define these roles.




About the Author

Brendan Byrne
While studying economics, Brendan found himself comfortably falling down the rabbit hole of restaurant work, ultimately opening a consulting business and working as a private wine buyer. On a whim, he moved to China, and in his first week following a triumphant pub quiz victory, he found himself bleeding on the floor based on his arrogance. The same man who put him there offered him a job lecturing for the University of Wales in various sister universities throughout the Middle Kingdom. While primarily lecturing in descriptive and comparative statistics, Brendan simultaneously earned an Msc in Banking and International Finance from the University of Wales-Bangor. He's presently doing something he hates, respecting French people. Well, two, his wife and her mother in the lovely town of Antigua, Guatemala. To contact Brendan or give him an exclusive, please contact him at theflask@gmail.com