Tag Archives: IXV

Europe test flies its engineering prototype space plane

The competition heats up: Europe today successfully launched and landed its Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV) space plane.

More details here. And here.

As of 9 pm (Eastern) Wednesday the recovery ship was still “hurrying” to reach the ship, which was being held afloat with “balloons.” Update: The spacecraft has been retrieved.

This prototype is not full scale. It is only about 16 feet long, and was built as a testbed. Whether Europe follows up with a full scale version remains completely unknown. I am skeptical, as this program reminds me of many deadend NASA experimental programs like it, used to try out cool engineering technologies as well as provide pork to Congressional districts without any plans to proceed to the real thing. In the case of IXV, the Italians got most of the pork.

All things go for test flight of European space plane prototype

The competition heats up: A Wednesday test flight of Europe’s Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV) is right now on schedule.

IXV, a test of gliding space plane engineering, was originally going to fly last year but got scrubbed because of political maneuverings within the European Space Agency.

Test flight of Europe’s first prototype space plane has been rescheduled

The competition heats up: Preparations have resumed for a February 11 test flight of a European prototype space plane, initially scheduled for November but cancelled at the last minute because managers suddenly discovered its launch path was going to go over land.

The launch trajectory of the IXV space plane on a suborbital trajectory will differ from the Vega rocket’s previous flights, which flew north from the space center with satellites heading for high-inclination polar orbits. The launch of IXV will head east from Vega’s launch pad, and the geometry of the French Guiana coastline means it will fly over land in the first phase of the launch sequence.

Officials said they slightly adjusted the launch track to alleviate the the safety concern.

The four-stage Vega rocket was stacked on the launch pad at the Guiana Space Center, and the IXV spacecraft was about to be fueled with hydrazine maneuvering propellant when officials announced the delay in October. A ship tasked with retrieving the space plane after splashdown in the Pacific Ocean had already left port in Italy when news of the launch delay was released.

I remain suspicious about the cause of the delay in November. How could they not have known about the launch trajectory until the last second? Instead, I suspect it occurred because of politics higher up in ESA related to Italian, German, and French tensions over the future of Arianespace. The Italians are the lead on this space plane project, to the apparent chagrin of the French, who mostly run the launch facility in French Guiana. Moreover, it appears the Italians have generally sided with the Germans against the French in the Ariane 6 design negotiations. I wonder if the delay was instigated by higher management in an effort to influence those negotiations.

Controversy surrounding IXV flight cancellation

Italian officials are suggesting politics or incompetence for the sudden cancellation Wednesday of the November test flight of Europe’s IXV experimental spaceplane.

ESA and CNES officials up to now have either declined to comment or, in the case of ESA, said they were at a loss to explain why a program whose mission profile has not changed in several years is now suddenly stalled for [range] safety issues that in principle should have been aired and resolved long ago.

One official, saying he could not believe that the two agencies simply forgot to evaluate the safety issues, said he preferred to suspect political motives. “Look, we are about to send a spacecraft and lander to Mars, in one year,” this official said. “Europe has rendezvoused with a comet a decade after the [Rosetta comet-chaser] satellite was launched. You want me to believe that somehow the agencies just forgot to evaluate safety? That is too far-fetched. I would rather believe there is some political motive.”

The claim is that no one ever evaluated the range issues in sending the Vega rocket to the east instead of its normal polar orbit trajectory. The Italian officials are suggesting that either the officials who cancelled the mission are incompetent, or that their competition with France within ESA over launch vehicles (Ariane 6 vs Vega) prompted the cancellation.

Europe’s lead launch-vehicle nation is France, which initially balked at participating in the Vega program. A French minister said that in Europe, launch vehicles are French. The French government declined to allow the export, to Italy, of the avionics suite that guides Vega, forcing Italy to develop its own. Italy has since done so and successfully flown it on Vega. As it stands now, one official said, France must accept the idea that with Vega, Italy has led development of a vehicle that at least in principle resembles an intercontinental ballistic missile. “Some people don’t like that,” this official said.

Either way, this cancellation combined with the difficult and extended disagreements within ESA over replacing Ariane 5 suggest that the future of this European partnership is becoming increasingly shaky.

Test flight of European space plane delayed

The November suborbital test flight of Europe’s Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) has been delayed to allow additional preparation.

For this mission, instead of heading north into a polar orbit, as on previous flights, Vega will head eastwards to release the spaceplane into a suborbital path reaching all the way to the Pacific Ocean to test new technologies for future autonomous controlled reentry for return missions. This trajectory is unprecedented for Vega and therefore more information is being generated on the performance of the launch vehicle, should an anomaly occur after liftoff.

ESA will not only be testing the flight characteristics of the space plane, they will be testing their new Vega rocket, which has only been launched a handful of times.

Europe readies its own space plane for test flight

The competition heats up: Europe ‘s Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) is undergoing its final tests before it does a suborbital test flight in November.

IXV will be launched into a suborbital trajectory on ESA’s small Vega rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, the vehicle will return to Earth as though from a low-orbit mission. For the first time, it will test and qualify European critical reentry technologies in hypersonic flight, descend by parachute and land in the Pacific Ocean to await recovery and analysis. IXV is manoeuvrable and able to make precise landings—it is the ‘intermediate’ element of Europe’s path to future developments with limited risks. …

When IXV splashes down in the Pacific at the end of its mission it will be recovered by ship and returned to Europe for detailed analysis to assess the performance and condition of the internal and external structures. The actual performance will be compared with predictions to improve computer modelling of the materials used and the spaceplane’s design.

Though exciting, Europe will have to pick up the pace from its normally slow pace on these kinds of projects if it expects to be competitive. In the past, they would stretch out the development as long as they could in order to keep the cash flowing. This won’t work in the increasingly robust aerospace market that exists today.

Europe has successfully drop tested its experimental re-entry vehicle.

Europe has successfully drop tested its own experimental re-entry vehicle.

The full-scale Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) prototype was released from an altitude of 3000 m by a helicopter, falling to gain speed to mimic a space mission before parachute deployment. The parachute slowed IXV for a safe splashdown in the sea at a speed below 7 m/s. This last step in a series of tests shows that IXV can be recovered safely after its mission into space.