A successful “drop test” has been conducted on Europe’s experimental re-entry vehicle, the IXV.
A 1:1 scale model was released from an altitude of 3km by a helicopter, and then descended to a splashdown in the Mediterranean on a parachute.
The IXV is a project of the European Space Agency that aims to develop an autonomous atmospheric re-entry system.
IXV is a lifting body; it has far more manoeuvrability than a standard cone-shaped, re-entry capsule. It has flaps and thrusters to control its descent trajectory. A ceramic heatshield on its underside will prevent the vehicle from burning up.
Its suite of sensors should give European engineers new insights into how objects fall back through the atmosphere and provide them with the data they need to design the next generation of space vehicles.
“We are one year away from launch and Wednesday’s drop test at the Salto di Quirra Inter-force Test Range in Sardinia was important to validate this part of the chain,” said Mr Provera.
The flight model should be delivered to the European Space Agency (Esa) in May of next year.
Esa member states approved Pride (Programme for Reusable In-orbit Demonstrator in Europe) at their recent ministerial council in Naples, and the agency has just sent Thales Alenia Space a request for quotation (RFQ).
The company will have to detail its initial design thoughts and the likely cost for the project, which has an envelope of about 400m euros.
The Pride vehicle will have to be compatible with the small Vega rocket, also. This means Pride must stay within 5m in length and have a maximum mass no greater than about 1,900kg.
“Pride represents the next step after IXV. You see the shape – it has wings. The mission envisages several orbits, not just an arc over the globe. And it will land on an airstrip,” said Mr Provera.
Pride would fly no earlier than 2018.