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ESA's IXV space wedge
The European Space Agency is working on an unmanned, wedge-shaped test vehicle that could lead to the development of a reusable spacecraft capable of returning from orbit on its own.
The ESA awarded a contract to build the IXV (Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle) to the Italian manufacturer Thales Alenia Space on 21 June.
"The purpose is to verify in flight the performance of critical re-entry technologies and disciplines like aerodynamics, aerothermal dynamics and materials, guidance and navigation controls, and also their integration at system level," ESA project manager Giorgio Tumino told ZDNet UK.
Tumino explained that the IXV would allow the ESA to integrate overlapping technologies for the first time. "Europe has never integrated such technologies at system level [before]," he said.
Photo credit: ESA/J Huart
The IXV is expected to weigh approximately 1.9 tonnes and measure 5m long by 2.5m wide. "It is about the size of a big car," Tumino said.
"The shape is capable of producing lift without wings, that's why it's called a 'lifting body'," he added. "The capability to produce lift allows it to have a more aerodynamic performance in terms of controllability and manoeuvrability, cross-range and down-range. So you're really flying; you're not falling."
According to the ESA, the spacecraft's outer shielding will be made from advanced ceramic materials, while the inner structure will be built around carbon-fibre, reinforced-polymer structural panels.
Photo credit: ESA