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Forum:ESA - JAXA - China - International
Topic:ESA's Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV)
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The IXV objectives are the design, development, manufacturing, and on-ground and in-flight verification of an autonomous European lifting and aerodynamically controlled re-entry system. Among the critical technologies of interest, special attention is being paid to: advanced instrumentation for aerodynamics and aerothermodynamics; thermal protection and hot-structures solutions; guidance, navigation and flight control through a combination of jets and aerodynamic flaps.

IXV will be launched in 2014 from Europe's spaceport at Kourou, French Guiana, using the new Vega small launch vehicle. After re-entering the Earth's atmosphere and being slowed down by air drag, IXV will descend by parachute and land in the Pacific Ocean to await recovery and post-flight analysis.

cspgEuropean Space Agency release
Safe splashdown for Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle

ESA's experimental reentry vehicle passed its milestone descent and landing test on Wednesday (June 21) at the Poligono Interforze Salto di Quirra off the east coast of Sardinia in Italy.

The full-scale Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) prototype was released from an altitude of 3000 m by a helicopter, falling to gain speed to mimic a space mission before parachute deployment. The parachute slowed IXV for a safe splashdown in the sea at a speed below 7 m/s.

This last step in a series of tests shows that IXV can be recovered safely after its mission into space.

The IXV project is developing and flight-testing the technologies and systems for Europe's future autonomous atmospheric reentry vehicles.

It will be launched by ESA next year on Vega, Europe's new small launcher, into a suborbital path. It will reenter the atmosphere as if from a low-orbit mission, testing new European reentry technologies during its hypersonic and supersonic flight phases.

Previous campaigns included several water impact tests at CNR–INSEAN, a marine-engineering research institute in Rome, Italy. An instrumented subscale prototype was released at various angles and speeds to assess the best configuration for minimum impact loads.

At the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, USA, the multistage supersonic parachute was qualified up to the opening of the main subsonic stage.

Building on these, Wednesday's test started with the redeployment of the main subsonic parachute followed by: cutting the two ablative thermal protection covers of the parachute bridles, firing the 16 non-explosive actuators to release the four panels covering the floatation balloons, jettisoning the panels, detecting the water impact, deploying the beacons, and receiving the signal from the Cospas–Sarsat satellite network pinpointing the prototype bobbing in the sea.

An anomaly in inflating the balloons will be investigated. The vehicle was recovered from the sea and taken to land for detailed inspections and analysis.

This test highlights the importance of early inflight verification to secure a robust space vehicle design, confirming the technical direction and possibly suggesting further improvements.

An anomaly in inflating the balloons will be investigated. The vehicle was recovered from the sea and taken to land for detailed inspections and analysis.

This test highlights the importance of early inflight verification to secure a robust space vehicle design, confirming the technical direction and possibly suggesting further improvements.

"Our special thanks go to the Italian Defense and the Italian Aerospace Research Centre (CIRA) for the commitment and the excellence exhibited in performing complex air–sea–ground operations enabling the successful challenging descent and landing system test," noted Giorgio Tumino, IXV Programme Manager.

On IXV's flight next year, the suborbital vehicle will separate from its Vega launcher at an altitude of 320 km. IXV will coast to 430 km and then begin its reentry phase, recording an impressive amount of experiment data from a large number of conventional and advanced sensors.

The entry speed of around 7.5 km/s at an altitude of 120 km will create the same conditions as those for a vehicle returning from low orbit. The mission, lasting more than 2 hours, will end with splashdown in the Pacific Ocean to await recovery and analysis.

Robert Pearlman
Bringing back Europe's spaceplane

The ship's crew aiming to recover ESA's Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle in November had a practice run off the coast of Tuscany, Italy on June 23, 2014.

They retrieved a prototype of the suborbital IXV, the same model flown last year in a splashdown test off the east coast of Sardinia.

A crane dropped the two-ton vehicle into the water for the crew to practice the maneuvers they will use when the real thing splashes down in the Pacific Ocean later this year. The rehearsal even allowed for an upside down splashdown.

A crew from the Italian company NERI were operating the recovery ship Nos Aries while the prototype was carefully hoisted aboard and into its container. This model, its work done, will now be taken to ESA's Technical Center in the Netherlands for display.

Launched later this year on ESA's Vega rocket from Kourou, French Guiana, IXV will test technologies and systems for Europe's future autonomous atmospheric reentry vehicles.

Descending on its suborbital path, as if returning from low orbit, IXV will use its body to generate lift for flying, controlled only by flaps and thrusters.

It is equipped with technology to collect information on aerodynamics, aerothermodynamics, materials, structures, mechanisms, guidance, navigation, control and avionics.

The experimental flight will end with IXV transmitting its data before splashing down into the most remote region of the Pacific, where Nos Aries will be waiting to retrieve it.

Setting off in mid-summer, Nos Aries will leave Italy to cross the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic. The specialist crew will board in Panama for the month-long journey through the Panama Canal and Pacific.

Before launch, the ship will release weather balloons to check the wind conditions over the Pacific to provide information on IXV's descent path.

If sea conditions allow the launch to go ahead, Nos Aries will receive the flight data from IXV's 300 sensors during descent and then pick up the beacon signals to pinpoint the craft after splashdown.

Divers on speedboats will approach the floating craft and then stand back as robotic sniffers check for residual propellant fumes. On the all-clear, the recovery cranes will carefully lift IXV to safety before the fuel tank is cleaned out for the journey home to Europe.

carl walkerEuropean Space Agency (ESA) release
Experimental spaceplane unboxed for final tests

The Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle arrived in the Netherlands last night (June 24) to undergo final tests at ESA's main technical centre ahead of its November launch.

These tests at ESA's Technical Centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, aim to confirm that IXV can withstand the demanding conditions of launch. The first batch, starting on 11 July for three weeks, sees IXV bolted to a 'shaker table' to experience the heavy vibrations of launch.

Three days of 'separation shock' testing follows, mimicking the moment the craft separates from the Vega rocket. At an altitude of 320 km, a pyrotechnic device will fire to open a clamp band for springs to push IXV away from the upper stage. Mission planners must be sure that it can withstand the mechanical shock of the pyrotechnic detonation.

Next, inside the Large European Acoustic Facility for six days, IXV will experience the deafening roar of a rocket ascent. Finally, 11 days will be devoted to checking that all of the onboard subsystems work after enduring the tests.

IXV must withstand the extremes of both space and atmosphere on its journey into space and back, requiring extensive testing for almost all of its technologies. Space is a vacuum but IXV must also withstand the searing heat of reentry.

In parallel to the testing in the Netherlands, other efforts are progressing to prepare for the suborbital flight, including the launch campaign in Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, the ground network and recovery operations.

In early September, IXV will be shipped to Kourou for launch in the first half of November.

Robert PearlmanEuropean Space Agency (ESA) release
ESA's experimental spaceplane set for flight

ESA's Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle is ready for its launch and reentry mission on Feb. 11. The launch is scheduled for 8:00 a.m. EST (13:00 GMT) atop a Vega rocket from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana.

This IXV mission will test cutting-edge system and technology aspects to provide Europe with an independent reentry capability, and a building block for reusable space transportation systems. It will validate designs for lifting-bodies, incorporating both the simplicity of capsules and the performance of winged vehicles, with high controllability and maneuverability for precision landing.

Above: The IXV Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle, installed on its payload adapter, is being prepared for launch, at Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on Jan. 28, 2015.

ESA has developed the capabilities to deliver spacecraft into orbit, dock automatically with cooperative or non-cooperative targets, and even land on celestial objects far away in our Solar System. Mastering autonomous return from orbit and soft landing will open a new chapter for ESA. Such a capability is a cornerstone for reusable launcher stages, sample return from other planets and crew return from space, as well as future Earth observation, microgravity research, satellite servicing and disposal missions.

The initial results from the flight are expected to be released around six weeks later.

The results will feed the Program for Reusable In-Orbit Demonstrator for Europe, or Pride, which is being studied under funding decided at ESA's last two Ministerial Councils. The reusable Pride spaceplane would be launched on Europe's Vega light rocket, orbit and land automatically on a runway.

Launch and reentry

After separating from Vega 200 miles (320 km) above Earth, the five-meter-long (16-foot), two-ton vehicle will climb to a height of around 280 miles (450 km) and then descend for reentry, recording a vast amount of data from a large number of conventional and advanced sensors.

After maneuvering to decelerate from hypersonic to supersonic speeds, IXV will deploy a multistage parachute to slow the descent further. Flotation balloons will keep it afloat after splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, where it will be recovered by a ship for detailed analysis.

The entire flight will last about 100 minutes.

Robert Pearlman
ESA's IXV launches on test flight

ESA's Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) launched atop a Vega rocket from the Guiana Space Center at 8:40 a.m. EST (1340 GMT) on a suborbital flight to test advanced technologies and systems for future European reentry systems.

After separating from the Vega at about 211 miles (340 kilometers) 18 minutes into flight, the IXV will coast to 256 miles (412 km) and then begin its re-entry.

The entry speed of 17,000 miles per hour (27,000 kph) will create the same conditions as those for a vehicle returning from low orbit. The IXV will navigate through the atmosphere within its re-entry corridor before descending under a multistage parachute to a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean some 100 minutes after lifting off.

The spacecraft is flying fully autonomously, closely monitored from its Mission Control Center located at the Advanced Logistics Technology Engineering Center in Turin, Italy. Signals from the spacecraft are being tracked by two ground stations in Africa and by an antenna on the recovery ship, Nos Aries.

Robert Pearlman
IXV safely splashes down in Pacific

ESA's Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) has safely splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, less than two hours after its launch.

The suborbital space plane landed under a multistage parachute at 10:19 a.m. EST (1519 GMT) on Wednesday (Feb. 11).

The IXV's main parachute was provided by Zodiac Aerospace, the U.S. company that built parachutes for NASA's Curiosity Mars rover and the space shuttle drag chute.

The vehicle will be recovered by the Italian vessel Nos Aries.

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