The European Space Agency to launch the Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) on Wednesday

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The first important event in 2015 for the European Space Agency, where Romania is a Member State, will take place on Wednesday, when the Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle is planned to be launched at 15:00 Romania local time (14:00 CET) atop a Vega rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.

You can follow the mission live starting 14:30 Romania time (13:30 CET) via Arianespace TV and ESA TV, Romanian Space Agency (ROSA) informed on Tuesday.

This IXV mission will test cutting-edge system and technology aspects to provide Europe with an independent re-entry 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 manoeuvrability for precision landing.

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 about six weeks later. They will feed the Programme 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 space plane would be launched on Europe’s Vega light rocket, orbit and land automatically on a runway.

The mission will last 100 minutes from liftoff to splashdown. Weighing around two tonnes and the size of a car, IXV is a snug fit inside Vega’s protective fairing. The two-piece shell will open to release the space plane at an altitude of 320 km.

After separating from Vega 320 km above Earth, the five-metre-long, two-tonne vehicle will climb to a height of around 450 km and then descend for re-entry, recording a vast amount of data from a large number of conventional and advanced sensors.

The entry speed of 7.5 km/s at an altitude of 120 km will create the same conditions as those for a vehicle returning from low orbit. IXV will glide through the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds to test new European reentry technologies before parachutes deploy to slow the descent for a safe splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. Flotation balloons will keep it afloat after landing, where a ship for detailed analysis will recover it.

Around €150 million are expected to be spent for the design and development of the IXV flight vehicle, ground support equipment, and ground segment (mission control centre update, naval antenna, telemetry kits, communications network), along with qualification and mission operations. This includes expenses related to the recovery ship but excludes the cost of the Vega rocket.

This mission represents a continental effort. The prime contractor is Thales Alenia Space Italia, supported by about 40 other European companies.

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