The European prototype vehicle for future space transportation concluded a series of tests splashing down into the Mediterranean Sea, proving its readiness for next year’s space mission.
The Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV), designed and manufactured by Thales Alenia Space for the European Space Agency (ESA), was dropped from a helicopter at the altitude of 3,000 metres and mimicked the last phase of atmospheric re-entry, before it landed safely by parachutes.
The drop test aimed to verify that all key elements of descent and recovery systems work according to expectations and correspond to the envisaged mission profile. Thales Alenia Space described the test, carried out in the Salto di Quirra Inter-force Test Range in Sardinia, Italy, as a great success.
The only setback reported was an anomaly in inflating of the flotation balloons that prevent the vehicle from sinking after the splash-down. After sending a signal after landing via satellite communication capabilities, the vehicle was located, recovered and brought back to land for further inspection and analysis.
IXV is designed as a lifting body with no wings that uses movable flaps for re-entry flight control. It flies similarly to the Space Shuttle in a nose-high attitude and manoeuvres by rolling out-of-plane, similarly to aircraft.
Scheduled to be launched for its mission into orbit in summer 2014 atop a Vega rocket, IXV intends to verify several key technologies and architectures that might be used for future vehicles servicing the International Space Station, carrying human crew as well as landing on other planets.
From orbit at the altitude of 430 km, the vehicle will perform an atmospheric re-entry, while experimental data will be collected through conventional and advanced instrumentation on board the vehicle. Travelling at the speed of 7.5 km per second when entering the atmosphere before the parachute deployment, the vehicle will land in the Pacific Ocean 1 hour and 30 minutes after the commencement of the operation.
Thales Alenia Space leads the consortium of several European companies, universities and research centres that are contributing to the project.
The vehicle previously passed several water impact tests when a subscale prototype was released at various angles and speeds to assess the best configuration for minimum impact loads.