The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) project.  Credit: ESA

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) project.
Credit: ESA

Later this year, it’ll be a hot time for increasing Europe’s knowledge base for future reentry missions.  

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) project is to tackle the basic European needs for reentry from low Earth orbit.

IXV’s launch, using Europe’s new Vega light launcher, is scheduled for October 2014.

Flight profile

Here’s the blistering ballistic background:

The IXV will separate from the Vega booster at an altitude of 320 kilometers, continuing to travel upwards to 412 kilometers. It will then begin its reentry, during which experimental data will be collected by the spacecraft’s complete instrument suite.

IXV’s speed during atmospheric reentry will reach approximately 7.7 kilometers a second at an altitude of 120 kilometers. That’s a typical profile for reentry from low Earth orbit – for example, from the space station’s orbit.

The mission will last approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes. Following the parachute descent phase, it will culminate with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. The spacecraft will be recovered by a specially equipped ship.

Advanced aerodynamics

The IXV demonstrator features advanced aerodynamics due to its lifting body design, which also maximizes maneuverability.

The craft is fitted with a sophisticated guidance, navigation and control system that uses automated control surfaces during the atmospheric reentry phase, plus a heat shield to withstand the searing heat of reentry.

The demonstration vehicle has been developed by Thales Alenia Space and is now completing integration at Thales Alenia Space’s clean rooms in Turin.

Flight hardware for Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) project. Credit: Thales Alenia Space

Flight hardware for Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) project. Credit: Thales Alenia Space

Next-generation systems

The vehicle will be delivered to ESA’s ESTEC center in the Netherlands, where it will undergo final testing before being shipped to the launch site at the Guiana Space Center, Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. 

The Italian Space Agency is a key player in the project, also providing technical assistance and contributions to both the ground segment and mission control.

“The design and construction of this technology demonstrator clearly establishes Thales Alenia Space as the European benchmark in space transport and reentry systems,” said Luigi Maria Quaglino, Senior Vice President for Exploration and Science at Thales Alenia Space. “It also paves the way for further developments leading to next-generation systems,” he added in a Thales Alenia Space press release.

NOTE: For more information on the Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) project, go to this video:

http://www.esa.int/esatv/Videos/2013/12/Preview_2014/IXV_Intermediate_Experimental_Vehicle

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