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ESA's first space taxi gets ready to blast off

9 February 2015
Little more than fifty years ago the first human went to space. Since then our adventures beyond the Earth have continued, but they have mostly involved robotic explorers. This is because human spaceflight is tricky. We don’t just have to send humans to space, we also have to bring them home safely and that’s very tricky.

Luckily for everyone with a dream of travelling to space, the European Space Agency is working hard to create a new “space taxi”. The spacecraft is called IXV (read as EYE-EX-VEE) and has been designed to give us more information on how to design spacecraft that can explore space and come back to Earth. One day it could carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station and, maybe one day, beyond!

The wingless spaceplane will be launched on a Vega rocket on 11 February. It will be launched for the first time to run a 100-minute test flight. It will hurl over 400 kilometres above the Earth and reach speeds of 27 000 kilometres an hour – 85 times faster than a bullet train! At that speed you could circle the Earth in less than an hour and a half.

The spaceplane will then begin its journey back to Earth, with help from rocket thrusters and flaps and will be slowed by parachutes for a safe splashdown in the Pacific Ocean where it will be collected by a recovery ship.

The technologies that will help us send future robots to Mars will be tested during the 100-minute IXV flight…. 100 minutes of critical teamwork!

Cool Fact: The IXV spacecraft is about the size of a normal car.

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