Friday, 23 August 2019
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ESA prepares test flight

A European Vega rocket is being prepared to launch an unmanned spaceplane to test re-entry technologies for future vehicles.

ESA’s Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle IXV is set to fly on a suborbital trajectory on 11 February from Kourou, French Guiana.

This 100 minute mission will gather vital flight data that can be used to develop systems and advanced technologies for future vehicles.

The launch had been postponed from 18 November to allow for additional analyses of the Vega flight trajectory, which will head east instead of north into a polar orbit.

“Launch preparations have resumed,” said Jose-Maria Gallego Sanz, the launch campaign manager. “Batteries that were removed from IXV are being taken from cold storage, charged and reinstalled. No additional tests are needed – IXV is ready to fly.”

Weighing around two tonnes and the size of a car, IXV is a snug fit inside Vega’s protective fairing. The two-piece shell will open to release the spaceplane at an altitude of 320 km.

IXV will then coast to up to 420 km before beginning its re-entry phase, recording data from an array of advanced and conventional sensors.

Its re-entry speed of 7.5 km/s at an altitude of 120 km will create similar conditions as those for a vehicle returning from low orbit.

IXV will glide through the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds before parachutes deploy to slow the descent for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

The Nos Aries recovery ship, stationed in Flamenco Island, Anchorage, where the crew have been testing the equipment for hoisting IXV out of the water, will sail on 25 January to the targeted recovery spot.

Clive Simpson

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