ESA Schedules Re-Entry Module Test
November 10, 2012

ESA Re-Entry Module Splashdown Test Scheduled For Q1 2013

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports — Your Universe Online

[ Watch the Video: ESA´s Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle ]

The European Space Agency's (ESA) Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) re-entry module will participate in a full-space splashdown in early 2013, the organization announced on Friday.

The parachute drop test is one of a series of descent and landing tests that the IXV will complete in preparation for its inaugural launch, which is currently scheduled to take place in 2014, the ESA explained.

"The ambition for a spacecraft to return autonomously from low orbit is a cornerstone for a wide range of space applications, including space transportation, exploration and robotic servicing of space infrastructure," they said in a statement. "IXV will achieve this goal. More maneuverable and able to make precise landings, it is the ℠intermediate´ element of Europe´s path to future developments with limited risks."

IXV will be launched into a suborbital trajectory from the ESA spaceport in French Guiana. The vehicle will be carried into space onboard a small Vega rocket and will return to Earth as if it were coming back from a low-orbit mission, the agency said. It will be the first time that Europe's critical re-entry technology will be tested in hypersonic flight.

"The experimental nature of the mission means that the vehicle´s trajectory is designed to avoid inhabited regions -- it will fly the experimental hypersonic phase over the Pacific Ocean, descend by parachute and land in the ocean to await recovery and analysis," the ESA said.

"The descent and landing are key because they will allow the recovery of the vehicle and its precious recorded data for inspection, and serve as a backup in the event of a telemetry failure with ground stations," they added. "Multiple failures during these phases in past national and international test flights have prompted ESA to ensure the recovery of the vehicle and data by using a robust design and rigorous verification."

The standard qualification tests include a series of various system and subsystem tests, including splashdown attitude verification and landing system tests at separate locations in Italy, as well as a parachute subsystem trial in the U.S. A prototype completed attitude verification tests in September 2011 and the parachute qualification test was completed in June of this year. The decent and landing system tests are scheduled for the first quarter of 2013.

"In addition to the retrieval of flight data in real time via telemetry, securing the descent and landing phases of the IXV mission for the recovery of the vehicle intact is the requirement of utmost importance for the project,” IXV Project Manager Giorgio Tumino said in a statement.

“Following past national and international experimentation failures, a lot of pressure is on industry to strengthen the failure tolerance in the design and verification approach of such critical flight phases," Tumino added. “The IXV mission into space is now becoming a concrete reality. It will provide Europe with credible and unique knowhow on atmospheric reentry system aspects and unknowns and flight-proven technologies essential to support the realization of the Agency´s future ambitions in the field."