The European Space Agency's unmanned IXV (Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle) is a test vehicle for trying out technologies that could be used in future low-Earth-orbit spacecraft. It will make its first test flight in February 2015. An Arianespace Vega rocket will launch the IXV during the mission.
The IXV's 100-minute hypersonic and supersonic flight is a suborbital hop from the Guiana Space Center — Europe's launch complex in French Guiana. The mission will launch the IXV spacecraft over the Eurasian continent and is aimed at a landing zone in the Pacific Ocean, where a recovery ship will fish it from the sea. The craft reaches a maximum altitude of 256 miles (412 kilometers).
The IXV space plane is a wingless spacecraft with a lifting body design, which means the vehicle's aerodynamic shape gives it the lift it needs to stay aloft. Two aft-mounted flaps will steer the spacecraft during its descent.
The spacecraft's belly is covered in protective heat-resistant panels made of carbon fibers that have been woven into a ceramic matrix. An infrared camera and 300 sensors on the heat shield will map the heat flow on IXV's belly during re-entry.
ESA hopes to follow the IXV mission with PRIDE (Program for a Reusable In-Orbit Demonstrator for Europe). PRIDE would deploy satellites before re-entering and landing on a runway.
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