The European Space Agency (ESA) is hoping to pave the way for reusable spacecraft after it successfully launched its first ever wingless plane into space on Wednesday. An unmanned ESA mini-space shuttle has touched down in the Pacific Ocean nearly two hours after its departure.
ESA has launched its 16 ft two ton craft named the IXV from Kourou, French Guiana on Wednesday in a flight which took around 2 hours. The launch saw the craft blasted into space on a Vega rocket. The unmanned IXV blasted off into space before dropping back down for a splash in the Pacific Ocean. It separated from the rocket when it reached 200 miles in altitude before flying up a further 280 miles.
After reaching the prescribed altitude, the space plane headed down for re-entry into Earth. It decelerated from hypersonic to supersonic speeds. The IXV then released its multistage parachute to aid in slowing down its descent further. The flotation balloons kept it above water, after hitting the Pacific Ocean, which will make it easier to recover it by ship. The scientists at the ESA stated that once the IXV is recovered it will undergo further analysis. They also added that the IXV was recording data about the flight with help from its numerous sensors.
The IXV or the Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle is about the size of a standard vehicle and will be able to test new technologies and systems that the ESA hopes will help the continent to build an even better space vehicle that can re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. This is the 150th European space mission that has been funded by Ireland.
The IXV reportedly cost about $169 million to design and develop. This test flight was aimed at testing out systems and technologies that will provide independent re-entry capabilities to Europe, one of the foundations of reusable space transport systems. It will also validate lifting-bodies designs, which combined the simplicity of a capsule with the performance of a winged vehicle and incorporated high control and maneuverability for precise landing.