Remember NASA’s Orion flight a few weeks ago?
Well, I’m very exited that ESA will shortly be testing the Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV), on a suborbital flight to test technologies and critical systems for Europe’s future automated reentry systems.
In a world first, Europe will launch and land an unmanned spaceplane that has no wings but instead features an aerodynamic shape that produces the lift to fly through the atmosphere. Flaps and thrusters will autonomously steer it back to a splashdown at a precise point in the Pacific Ocean.
After separation from Vega at about 340 km altitude 18 minutes into flight, it will coast up to a maximum height of about 420 km. Next, it will begin reentry, recording data from a large number of conventional and advanced sensors.
The entry speed of 27 000 km/h (7.5 km/s) creates the same conditions as those for a vehicle returning from low orbit. It will navigate through the atmosphere within its reentry corridor before descending, slowed by a multistage parachute, for a safe splashdown in the Pacific Ocean some 100 minutes after liftoff.
The spacecraft will fly fully autonomously, and will be closely monitored from its Mission Control Center located at the Advanced Logistics Technology Engineering Center in Turin, Italy. Signals from the spacecraft will be tracked by two ground stations in Africa and by an antenna on the recovery ship, Nos Aries.
On 11 February, follow the mission live starting 12:30 GMT here.