ESA’s Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV) has successfully returned home after a 100 minute mission through the atmosphere. The initial launch was postponed due to some launch problem, but finally it took off on a Vega rocket from Kourou in South America. The total flight lasted about 100 minutes. It traveled 256 miles into the Earth’s atmosphere during the first test flight of this technology. The 16ft space-plane separated from the Vega rocket at an altitude of 210 miles to its maximum altitude. It flew around 20,000 miles before re-entering Earth’s atmosphere at 16, 800mph.
While on its short journey, it navigated through the atmosphere using ‘flaps’ at its back, controlling its re-entry in a way not possible for capsules that return from space. It splashed down as planned in the Pacific Ocean. “This mission will teach us a lot about the technologies we need to apply in new launch systems, in particular when we think about reusable systems,” said Gaele Winters, ESA Director of Launchers. “This was a short mission with big impact,” said Giorgio Tumino, IXV project manager.
This could lead to new re-usable spacecrafts for use on future missions to Mars. One of the main uses for the craft that looks like a shrunken space shuttle without wings is to develop new ways of returning cargo and astronauts safely to Earth. “Re-entry is something we need to achieve if one day we want to have the ambition of having astronauts flying back to Earth with European technologies,” said Mr. Tumino. This will help scientists develop spacecraft that can land safely on the surface of Mars in future missions and then return samples to Earth. The IXV took over five years to develop at the cost of 150 million euros or $225 million.