A suborbital success: Vega supports European space technology development with launch of the IXV spaceplane
Arianespace’s lightweight Vega launcher is now four-for-four in missions from the Spaceport following today’s success with the European Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) – an unmanned spaceplane developed to test reentry technologies for potential use in future transportation systems.
The lightweight Vega member of Arianespace’s launcher family lifts off from the Spaceport with its IXV passenger.
The flight – which lifted off this morning from the Spaceport’s ZLV launch site – involved an unusual mission profile: a suborbital trajectory that began in French Guiana and ended with the payload’s splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. The concluding step has now been confirmed, with IXV to be picked up by a recovery ship.
During post-launch comments from the mission control center, Arianespace Chairman & CEO Stéphane Israël offered his congratulations to the Italian space industry – which played a major role in development of the Vega launcher, as well as the IXV spaceplane.
“Today’s flight, the fourth success of Vega in as many attempts, is one more confirmation of the Italian excellence in the field of launch vehicles,” said Israël, referring in particular to Vega prime contractor ELV S.p.A., a company jointly owned by AVIO and the Italian Space Agency.
Further underscoring the Italian influence on this Vega flight, the IXV passenger was produced for the European Space Agency (ESA) by Thales Alenia Space at the company’s Torino facility in Italy. “Today, the [Spaceport] is very Italian, and we like that because it shows the strengths of European nations when it comes to space capacities,” Israël added.
Also commenting on Vega’s performance in its missions to date was ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain. “Four launches, four successes – that’s the grand slam, as they say in tennis,” he stated. “And that’s four launches to completely different orbits. This demonstrates not only the capability of the launcher, but also its tremendous flexibility.”
Vega deploys IXV for an on-target suborbital trajectory
Vega’s mission with IXV marked the lightweight vehicle’s fourth launch, and was designated Flight VV04.
Weighing approximately two metric tons, IXV was released from Vega at a planned altitude of 320 km.; then it climbed to a targeted altitude of 420 km. to begin the reentry phase. The spaceplane’s anticipated entry speed of 7.5 km/sec. creates the same conditions as those for a vehicle returning from low Earth orbit, with control at hypersonic and supersonic speeds provided by IXV’s thrusters and aerodynamic flaps.
Recorded using a large number of conventional and advanced sensors, the data collected by IXV will be used for progress in atmospheric reentry, oriented towards transportation systems with applications in exploration, science, Earth observation, microgravity and clean space. The capability of returning from space is a cornerstone for enabling ambitious European plans in reusable launcher stages, sample return from other planets and crew return from orbital infrastructures.
In addition to being the fourth Vega flight overall, today’s success marked the first of 11 missions targeted in 2015 with a member of Arianespace’s launch vehicle family – which also includes the heavyweight Ariane 5 and medium-lift Soyuz. In addition, it was the second launch within the European Space Agency-managed VERTA (Vega Research and Technology Accompaniment) program to showcase Vega’s flexibility and versatility.
According to Israël, 2015 will be a “decisive” year for Vega – with three missions forecasted with the light-lift vehicle, each targeting different applications: space technology development, with today’s lofting of IXV; Earth Observation, with the orbiting of Sentinel 2A this spring as part of the European Union’s Copernicus program; and science, with the autumn launch of the European Space Agency’s Lisa Pathfinder.
The next flight of an Arianespace launch vehicle family member is scheduled for March 27 with Soyuz, which will loft two additional Full Operational Capability satellites for the European Galileo constellation.