ESA’s Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) is ready for its launch and reentry mission on February 11, 2015. The launch is scheduled for 13:00 UTC atop a Vega rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.
Europe’s ambition for a spacecraft to return autonomously from low orbit is a cornerstone for a wide range of space applications, including space transportation, exploration and robotic servicing of space infrastructure.
This IXV mission will test cutting-edge system and technology aspects to provide Europe with an independent reentry capability, and a building block for reusable space transportation systems.
It will validate designs for lifting-bodies, incorporating both the simplicity of capsules and the performance of winged vehicles, with high controllability and manoeuvrability for precision landing.
IXV. Image credit: ESA/J.Huart
After separating from Vega 320 km above Earth, the five-meter-long, two-tonne vehicle will climb to a height of around 450 km and then descend for reentry, recording a vast amount of data from a large number of conventional and advanced sensors.
ESA's IXV reentry vehicle. Image credit: ESA-J. Huart, 2012
After maneuvering to decelerate from hypersonic to supersonic speeds, IXV will deploy a multistage parachute to slow the descent further. Flotation balloons will keep it afloat after splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, where it will be recovered by a ship for detailed analysis.
The entire flight will last about 100 minutes.
XIV mission overview. Image credit: ESA–J. Huart
The knowledge gained from the IXV mission will be key in ESA’s future plans involving applications requiring controlled atmospheric reentry. PRIDE mission is proposed as a follow-up.
It will focus on system and technology performance verification in all flight conditions (i.e. hypersonic, supersonic, transonic, subsonic). This will be achieved through an end-to-end European orbital mission with landing on a conventional runway.
PRIDE mission. Image credit: ESA-J. Huart, 2012
Applications for controlled atmospheric reentry vehicles
- Reusable launchers stages (lower and upper),
- Robotic exploration (for example, sample return from Mars or asteroid),
- Servicing of orbital infrastructures (for example, International Space Station),
- Servicing of future generation satellites (for example, in-orbit refuelling or disposal),
- Microgravity experiments (for example, optimum time/cost ratio),
- Earth sciences (for example, high-altitude atmospheric research),
- Earth observation (for example, crisis monitoring).
Featured image credit: ESA
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