ESA prepares IXV concept spaceplane for maiden flight
The European Space Agency is preparing to test the atmospheric re-entry capabilities of its new early concept spaceplane, the Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV). The test flight is slated for launch in November atop a European made Vega rocket, with the hope that results will inform the design of future ESA spacecraft.
The overriding goal in pursuing the project is to lessen the ESA's dependence on the current generation of Russian made Soyuz return vehicles. Whilst the IXV test vehicle is designated as a spaceplane, you could be forgiven for thinking that, at least on the outside, it looks anything but. Instead, in its current stage of development the IXV resembles a simple fuselage.
The apparent simplicity in the design of the IXV is due to the fact that the spacecraft represents a preliminary stage of testing, with an emphasis on proving basic but vital technology for more advanced concepts in the future. The agency intends to take the lessons taken from the November launch and begin the process of creating a viable autonomous re-entry spacecraft with a focus on modularity and flexibility in orbital operations.