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Launch of ESA’s first ‘Space Plane’ – postponed

Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle IXV space shuttle plane ESTEC Netherlands photo credit Jacques van Oene SpaceFlight Insider

Photo Credit: Jacques van Oene / SpaceFlight Insider

The launch of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) IXV (Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle), ESA’s first-ever “space plane” has been postponed to give scientists time to fine tune the mission’s flight plan. At present, there is no established revised launch date, a new one is expected soon.

“Within the scope of its preparations for the VV04 mission, the European Space Agency (ESA ), in conjunction with French space agency CNES, has decided to carry out additional flight trajectory analyses for the scheduled Vega launch of IXV,” Arianespace said in a statement. The launch was originally scheduled for Nov. 18, 2014.

Stefano Bianchi, head of launchers for ESA, told that discussions with the CNES — which is Europe’s “launching state” in legal terms as host to the Guiana Space Center — are likely to continue “for a few weeks” before an acceptable flight route is determined.

Given the flight manifests of Europe’s heavy-lift Ariane 5 and its medium-lift “Europeanized” Russian Soyuz rockets in December, the Vega IXV launch may be pushed into early 2015, Bianchi said.

The IXV project is developing and flight-testing the technologies and critical systems for Europe’s future autonomous controlled reentry for return missions from low-Earth orbit. IXV is the test bed for a shuttle-like vehicle that would giving Europe the ability to return to Earth from orbit.

The experimental vehicle measures 16 feet (5 meters) in length, five feet (1.5 meters) in height, and seven feet (2.2 meters) wide – about the size of a car – and weighs almost 2 tons.

IXV will be injected into a suborbital path by a Vega rocket launched from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. IXV will separate from Vega at an altitude of about 200 miles (320 km). It will attain an altitude of around 280 miles (450 km), allowing it to reach a speed of five miles (7.5 km) per second when reentering the atmosphere at an altitude of 75 miles (120 km) – fully representative of any return mission from low orbit. It will collect a large amount of data during its hypersonic and supersonic flight, while being controlled by thrusters and aerodynamic flaps.

If all goes according to plan, the test craft will then deploy a parachute to slow its descent for a safe splashdown in the Pacific Ocean to await recovery and flight analysis. The complete mission will last for approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes.


This article originally appeared on Astro Watch and can be viewed here: IXV

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Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.

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