The European Space Agency is preparing for the first suborbital test flight of its Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) reentry demonstrator, which may pave the way for future development of a European orbital spaceplane. Ironically, the test comes at a time when NASA has once again turned its back on spaceplane technology in favor of sixties-style space capsules.


IXV is a lifting-body vehicle, about five meters (15 feet) long and weighing almost two tons, which will test technologies for autonomous controlled reentry. IXV is scheduled for launch on a Vega rocket from the European spaceport in French Guiana in mid-November.

IXV will explore the coupling of inertial measurement units with GPS data and the combination of flaps and thrusters for control in hypersonic flight. It will also test the performance of thermal-protection materials and designs, including thermal expansion, seals, and gaps.

ESA hopes that data gathered by IXV will provide a better understanding of aerothermodynamic reentry phenomena governed by complex real-gas laws that are difficult to predict, reducing design margins required in future vehicles.

During the test flight, IXV will reach a maximum altitude of 450 kilometers (280 miles). On reentry, it will reach a speed of 7.5 km/s (over 16,000 mph) at 120 km (75 mi). At the completion of the mission, the vehicle will descend by parachute and be recovered in the Pacific Ocean after traveling more than halfway around the world.

The next step after IXV could be the Programme for Reusable In-orbit Demonstrator in Europe (PRIDE) mission. PRIDE would perform a complete end-to-end orbital mission and return to land on a runway.

ESA sees numerous applications for autonomous atmospheric reentry vehicles, including servicing orbital facilities such as the International Space Station, refueling and disposal of unmanned satellites, microgravity experimentation, high-altitude atmospheric research and Earth observation, and sample return from Mars or the asteroids.

European Space Agency PRIDE mission

ESA is also collaborating with Sierra Nevada to develop hardware and mission concepts for the Dream Chaser orbital spaceplane.

Sierra Nevada is marketing Dream Chaser as a space utility vehicle that could serve as a platform for technology demonstrations, construction and repair missions, and crewed or un-crewed scientific missions.

ESA is currently working with Sierra Nevada to identify applications of European hardware, software, and know-how, as well as studying a possible industrial consortium to use Dream Chaser for European missions. Following this evaluation and planning phase, which will continue throughout 2014, ESA and Sierra Nevada hope to sign a long-term agreement leading to flight operations.

Written by Astro1 on October 8th, 2014 , Commercial Space (General)

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    Pat Lavins commented

    This is why it is so important that Gabriel Rothblatt win the November election to be the representative of the Space Coast in the U. S. House of Representatives.

    October 8, 2014 at 8:49 pm
    james brown commented

    Isn’t the X-37 largely a lifting body with very short wings? If Europe developed a lifting body I say good for them. they are also working on the Skylon which also flies something like that. It should have been Dragon and Dream Chaser, but the polutics would not not kill the Boeing system even though it is farther away and cost twice as much or more. SpaceX has already proved most if it works since the freight version has already been to the ISS a half dozen times. The human version is a few minor upgrades to what is successful now. Unlike the Dream Chaser it can also be used to come back from Lunar and Mars missions and can land almost anywhere on Earth. The Dragon can also make the two other capsules obsolete, but we should have at least two from LEO.

    October 10, 2014 at 1:07 am
    Michael Parkhill commented

    They seem to be moving away from anything that is space shuttle like. I guess time will tell how that plays out.

    October 22, 2014 at 8:43 am