Vega VV04 carrying IXV on the Launch Pad. Credit: ESA

Successful Launch of Vega with the Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle!

by Viacheslav Pronskyi

On February 11, 2015, Arianespace conducted successful launch of Vega small-class launch vehicle with the European Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) from the Guiana Space Center, Kourou, French Guiana. The IXV atmospheric re-entry demonstrator was injected into a suborbital path at an altitude of near 350 km. The mission was titled VV04, in a way Arianespace names all its missions, what means the fourth launch of the Vega vehicle.

Launch of Vega VV04 carrying IXV

Being released, IXV expected to attain an altitude of around 412 km, allowing it to reach a speed of 7.5 km/s when re-entering the atmosphere at an altitude of 120 km — fully representative of any return mission from low Earth orbit (LEO). It is foreseen for IXV to collect a large amount of data during its hypersonic and supersonic flight, being controlled by thrusters and aerodynamic flaps. The vehicle then is to deploy a parachute to slow its descent for a safe splashdown in the Pacific Ocean to await recovery and analysis.

IXV mission overview. Credit: ESA

The IXV was built by Thales Alenia Space as prime contractor on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA), with integration of competences from around 40 other European companies, universities and research institutes. The knowledge gained from the IXV mission will be key in ESA’s future plans involving applications requiring controlled atmospheric reentry.

The IXV is 5 meters long, 1.5 meters high, and 2.2 meters wide — about the size of a car — and weighs 1,845 kilograms. From the outer to inner layers, IXV comprises:

  • Thermal protective shells of ceramics and ablatives to resist the extreme heat of reentry,
  • Structural panels made of carbon-fibre reinforced polymer to hold inner elements in place during launch and landing,
  • Functional and experimental subsystems equipment.
IXV drop-test model. Credit: ESA

It is expected to cost around €150 million for the design and development of the IXV flight vehicle, ground support equipment, and ground segment, along with qualification and mission operations. This includes expenses related to the recovery ship but excludes the cost of the Vega rocket (it is known that Vega commercial mission cost is estimated at near €40 million).

The Vega VV04-IXV launch, initially scheduled for November 2014, was pushed back to February 2015 to allow time for additional analyses of the flight trajectory for this mission.

Vega VV04 lift-off with IXV. Credit: ESA
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