Europe’s ambition for a spacecraft to return autonomously from low orbit is a cornerstone for a wide range of space applications, including space transportation, exploration and robotic servicing of space infrastructure.
Part of this goal will be achieved with IXV Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle, planned for launch in 2014. Launched into a suborbital trajectory on ESA’s Vega rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, IXV will return to Earth as if from a low-orbit mission, to test and qualify new European critical reentry technologies such as advanced ceramic and ablative thermal protection.
The 2 t lifting body will attain an altitude of around 450 km, allowing it to reach a velocity of 7.5 km/s on reentering the atmosphere. It will collect a large amount of data during its hypersonic and supersonic flight, while it is being controlled by thrusters and aerodynamic flaps.
The craft will then descend by parachute and land in the Pacific Ocean to await recovery and analysis.