The IXV project is developing and flight-testing the technologies and critical systems for Europe’s future autonomous controlled reentry for return missions from low Earth orbit.
The experimental vehicle is 5 m long, 1.5 m high, and 2.2 m wide – about the size of a car – and weighs almost 2 t.
Launch and recovery
IXV will be injected into a suborbital path by a Vega rocket launched from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana in autumn 2014. IXV will separate from Vega at an altitude of 320 km. It will attain an altitude of around 450 km, allowing it to reach a speed of 7.5 km/s when reentering the atmosphere at an altitude of 120 km – fully representative of any return mission from low orbit. It will collect a large amount of data during its hypersonic and supersonic flight, while being controlled by thrusters and aerodynamic flaps.
The craft will then deploy a parachute to slow its descent for a safe splashdown in the Pacific Ocean to await recovery and analysis.
The complete mission will last for approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes.
The Mission Control Centre at the Advanced Logistics Technology Engineering Centre (ALTEC) in Turin, Italy, will closely monitor IXV during its mission. This facility will also be in charge of coordinating the activities of the entire ground segment, including the fixed ground stations in Libreville (Gabon) and Malindi (Kenya), and the naval station on the recovery ship in the Pacific Ocean.
Space and ground segment activities in 2014
|May||IXV integration & qualification (Turin, IT)|
|Jun–Aug||IXV environmental tests (Noordwijk, NL)|
|Aug–Sep||IXV & ground segments deployment (worldwide)|
|Sep–Nov||Ground segment launch campaign (worldwide)|
|Sep–Nov||IXV segment launch campaign (Kourou)|
|Nov||Launch, mission & recovery (Kourou)|
Applications for controlled atmospheric reentry vehicles
- 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),
- Robotic exploration (for example, sample return from Mars or asteroids).