Europe’s Prototype Spaceplane Completes Successful Test Flight

A four-stage Vega rocket blasts off from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana Wednesday to position the Intermediate Experimental Vehicle for its trial run beyond the atmosphere. (PHOTO CREDIT: ESA)
A four-stage Vega rocket blasts off from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana Wednesday to position the Intermediate Experimental Vehicle for its trial run beyond the atmosphere. (PHOTO CREDIT: ESA)

About 100 minutes after blasting off aboard a Vega rocket Wednesday, the European Space Agency’s prototype spaceplane, called the Intermediate Experimental Vehicle, or IXV, made a parachute descent back to Earth, completing a test flight aimed at developing technologies for reusable spaceships and atmospheric re-entry.

“This was a short mission with big impact,” IXV project manager Giorgio Tumino said in a statement.

The Vega rocket, which lifted off at 8:40 a.m. EST (1340 GMT) from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, delivered IXV to an altitude of 211 miles. The two-ton vehicle continued up to about 256 miles — roughly the altitude of the International Space Station’s orbit — then began its glide back to Earth.

More than 300 sensors aboard recorded data as the 16-foot long wingless IXV maneuvered, passing from hypersonic to subsonic speeds. It hit the atmosphere at a speed of about 16,777 mph, the same speed of spacecraft returning for low-Earth orbits.

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SOURCE: Discovery News, Irene Klotz

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