ESA set to test reusable spaceship on Wednesday

For story suggestions please contact [email protected]

The European Space Agency’s Vega rocket, which contains the agency’s Intermediate Experimental Vehicle, or IXV, is poised for liftoff this Wednesday. The aircraft will launch from Kourou, French Guiana at 13:00 GMT.

After climbing 320 kilometers from Earth, IXV will completely separate from the Vega rocket. The unmanned spacecraft will continue to climb for several more kilometers before coasting in low orbit and initiating its descent back to Earth’s atmosphere.

The aerodynamic shape of IXV provides the lift that flies the aircraft through space. IXV will propel itself back towards Earth with aerodynamic flaps and thrusters, and continue to collect data about its external conditions as it makes its way back to Earth’s surface. IXV will deploy parachutes to slow down its descent before landing in the Pacific Ocean. The entire mission will last 100 minutes.

Reentering Earth’s atmosphere safely is still a major challenge for the aerospace industry as the friction created as a spacecraft reenters Earth’s atmosphere can heat the space vehicle up to extremely high degrees. ESA scientists hope that data collected from Wednesday’s test will bring them one step closer to creating reusable spacecrafts that can shuttle astronauts back and forth from space stations and return from missions to Mars. After NASA retired its Space Shuttle, the only remaining spacecraft that is able to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station is Russia’s Soyuz.

1. Spaceship launch site in French Guiana
2. Spaceship lifts off and shell opens to release IXV
3. Remaining IXV section with sensors
4. IXV returning to Earth using flappers and thrusters
5. IXV parachuting down in Earth’s atmosphere
6. IXV floating on the Pacific using balloons

VOICEOVER (in English):

“The European Space Agency is launching a test run on February 11 of its new, reusable spacecraft.”

“This mission is unique as ESA’s unmanned, experimental spaceship will maneuver itself back through Earth’s atmosphere.”

“The Vega rocket containing ESA’s Intermediate Experimental Vehicle, or IXV, will launch from Kourou, French Guiana on Wednesday.”

“The rocket will open its two-piece shell at an altitude of 320 kilometers and release the IXV.”

“The IXV’s 300 sensors will collect various data throughout the spacecraft’s 100-minute mission.”

“Rocket thrusters and flaps will control IXV’s descent back to Earth, and its sensors will continue to calculate data during the reentry process.”

“The spacecraft will deploy parachutes in order to slow itself down before landing.”

“Balloons released from the side of the spacecraft will keep the IXV afloat until it is recovered.”

“The IXV is ESA’s first step towards creating reusable spacecraft that may one day return from missions to Mars or shuttle astronauts back from space stations.”

SOURCES: Spaceflight Now, Aerospace Technology, European Space Agency