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ESA's spaceplane cleared for lift-off in February 2015

IXV test flight will use 'unprecedented' flight path

By Richard Chirgwin, 24 Nov 2014

Arianespace has put the launch of its IXV spaceplane back on the schedule, announcing a February 2015 date for the flight.

The launch was recently postponed, but the organisation now says it's agreed with French space agency CNES that IXV – the Intermedia eXperimental Vehicle – will ascend to space on February 11 2015.

The IXV was delivered to the French Guiana spaceport in September, but hopes for a November launch were dashed in October when the European Space Agency (ESA) announced it would be postponed.

At that time, the ESA said it needed more time to analyse the flight trajectory of the Vega launcher that will hoist the space plane, because instead of the usual polar trajectory the launcher uses, the IXV test will head eastwards.

Since an easterly launch is “unprecedented” for Vega, the ESA said it wanted to generate more information on the performance of the launch vehicle, “should an anomaly occur after liftoff”.

Vega will carry the IXV to 320 km, after which it will rise under its own power to 420 km. It will reach a speed of 7.5 km/second before re-entry, which the agency says is “fully representative of any mission from low orbit”.

The ultimate aim for the two-tonne IXV is to develop the technologies needed to launch cargoes to targets like the ISS in a reusable autonomous craft. Lift is generated not by wings but by the body design, with a couple of flaps controlling its flight.

The IXV will land in the Pacific Ocean, but the ESA ultimately wants to develop a craft that can land on conventional runways. ®

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