IXV: Europe’s Experimental Space Plane

IXV Undergoing Ocean Retrieval Tests

Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser is far from the only space plane currently under development.  With the second super secretive Boeing X-37 still in orbit, and a variety of suborbital craft;  Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo,  XCOR’s Lynx and Swiss Space Systems SOAR space plane all in various stages of construction,  the Shuttle may be retired, but its offspring are multiplying.  In addition to operation programs, the European Space Agency is also conducting a limited space plane technology demonstrator program as well, the IXV.

According to ESA:

The IXV  (Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle) project objectives are the design, development, manufacturing, and on-ground and in-flight verification of an autonomous European lifting and aerodynamically controlled re-entry system. Among the critical technologies of interest, special attention is being paid to:

advanced instrumentation for aerodynamics and aerothermodynamics
thermal protection and hot-structures solutions
guidance, navigation and flight control through a combination of jets and aerodynamic flaps

ESA plans to conduct a suborbital test launch out of Kourou, French Guiana, aboard its Vega rocket this November, with a recovery taking place in the Pacific Ocean.  In preparation for that test flight, ESA yesterday conducted ocean retrieval tests off the Tuscan coast.


At this point, and in marked contrast to other programs mentioned, there is no committed plan for a follow on project. Maybe thats a good idea. You never know what may result from an “off nominal” re-entry.

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