Europe’s IXV spaceplane is “powered up” for its February 11 launch on Vega
Next month’s flight of the light-lift Vega vehicle in Arianespace’s launcher family will involve a highly unusual mission profile: a suborbital trajectory with an unmanned European spaceplane that begins in French Guiana and ends with the payload’s Pacific Ocean splashdown.
Scheduled for liftoff on February 11, Vega will loft the European Space Agency’s Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV), which was developed to test reentry technologies in developing systems and advanced technologies for future transportation systems.
At the Spaceport with the IXV spaceplane are Giorgio Tumino, ESA’s IXV Program Manager, and Davide Nicolini, ESA Vega Operational Launch System Project Manager.
IXV currently is in the S5B hall of the Spaceport’s S5 payload preparation building, where the spaceplane has been fitted with its functional batteries and switched on. This will be followed next week by IXV’s fueling with its hydrazine maneuvering propellant.
The upcoming Vega launch – designated Flight VV04 in Arianespace’s mission numbering system – will have a 100-minute duration, and marks the fourth use of this launcher since its February 2012 introduction at the Spaceport.
Weighing approximately two metric tons, IXV will be released from Vega at an altitude of 320 km., subsequently climbing to 420 km. for the start of its reentry phase. The spaceplane’s entry speed of 7.5 km/sec. will create 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.
Thales Alenia Space Italia is prime contractor for IXV’s space and ground segments, integrating competences from some 40 other European companies, universities and research institutes.
Preparations for Flight VV04 originally began last year, with the activity resuming earlier this month.
The four-stage Vega launcher to be used for February 11’s mission is the smallest member of Arianespace’s launcher family, operated at the Spaceport along with the medium-lift Soyuz and heavy-lift Ariane 5. Vega’s industrial prime contractor is ELV S.p.A. – a company created in December 2000 by Avio and the Italian Space Agency (ASI).