Arianespace’s lightweight Vega launcher is readied for its mission with the European IXV spaceplane
Another lightweight Vega launcher has begun its build-up at the Spaceport, initiating preparations for Arianespace’s mid-November liftoff from French Guiana with the European Space Agency’s Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV).
The initial processing step occurred yesterday with Vega’s first stage rollout. This used a wheeled platform to transfer the solid-propellant stage from the Spaceport’s Booster Integration Building to the SLV launch site.
Once fully assembled, Vega will be ready to receive the IXV spaceplane, which is an atmospheric reentry demonstrator designed to flight test technologies and critical systems for Europe’s future automated reentry systems as they return from low Earth orbit.
IXV is Europe’s first spacecraft of this type, and the mission calls for a new Vega flight profile. Instead of heading north from the Spaceport into a polar orbit as on previous launches, Vega will follow an eastward trajectory – a suborbital path that ends with a parachute-assisted splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
The IXV demonstrator features advanced aerodynamics with its lifting body design, which maximizes maneuverability. Built by Thales Alenia Space, the spaceplane integrates a sophisticated guidance, navigation and control system for the reentry phase, while a heat shield is used to withstand the heat of reentry.
November’s Vega mission with IXV is designated Flight VV04 in Arianespace’s launcher family numbering system – signifying the launcher’s fourth mission to be performed from the Spaceport. Previous flights were conducted in April 2014 (with the Republic of Kazakhstan’s KazEOSat-1/DZZ-HR Earth observation satellite), in May 2013 (carrying a trio of satellites: Proba-V, VNREDSat-1 and ESTCube-1), and in February 2012 (with the LARES laser relativity satellite, the ALMASat-1 technology microsatellite demonstrator and seven CubeSats).