IXV Hypersonic Demonstrator Ready for Launch

IXV mission logo. Credits: ESA

IXV mission logo. Credits: ESA

Tomorrow, Wednesday the 11th of February, the European space industry will have its flight test experience in space by launching the IXV (Intermediate Experimental Vehicle) on a sub-orbital trajectory for a controlled, glided, hypersonic re-entry, and subsequent recovery in the ocean. On a different scale, this mission is very much like the Orion flight test of just two months ago that saw the first US step into a possible new era of exploration. Where the IXV flight test will bring Europe is entirely another matter, but for industry and science, the experience and the data that will be collected, will become an important asset for future developments. This is the first time that Europe tries a Mach 25 controlled entry into the atmosphere.

The IXV will be launched by a Vega rocket from Kourou, in French Guiana. The launcher will follow a very peculiar trajectory, compared to other satellite delivery missions, injecting the IXV into a highly elliptical orbit, inclined 5.4 degrees with the equator, and with an apogee of 412 km and a perigee of just 76 km. This means that the perigee is inside the atmosphere and before the IXV completes half a loop around the Earth it will be already time for re-entry. This trajectory is yet another proof of the versatility of the Vega launcher concept also thanks to the AVUM, its fourth, re-startable, stage.

IXV rear end shows the four reaction control thrusters arranged in such a way to provide control on all three rotation axis. Below them the two elevons, for pitch and roll control during atmospheric flight. Credits: ESA.

IXV rear end shows the four reaction control thrusters arranged in such a way to provide control on all three rotation axis. Below them the two elevons, for pitch and roll control during atmospheric flight. Credits: ESA.

With a mass at launch of 1845 Kg the IXV is close to the maximum lift capability of the Vega launcher. It is a lifting body hypersonic research vehicle built for ESA by Thales Alenia Space Italy, with forty other partners throughout Europe. It is about 5 m long, 2.2 m wide and 1.5 m high and its development started in 2002. With a lift-to-drag ration of 0.7, aerodynamic performances will guarantee a controlled re-entry into the target area in the Pacific Ocean. During its short, but intense, flight the IXV will be followed by ground stations in Libreville (Gabon), in Malindi (Kenya), from the recovery ship Nos Aries. A communications blackout period, from about 100 km to 40 km of altitude, can be expected due to the plasma generate by air friction. Upon decelerating to about Mach 2, at an altitude of about 32 km, a series of parachutes will deploy and transition the flight to a vertical descent. Splashdown in the ocean will be assisted by flotation gear deployment and subsequent immediate recovery.

IXV single-string avionics is concentrated in the forward bay, but sensors are distributed everywhere in the vehicle like a nerve system. Credits: ESA.

IXV single-string avionics is concentrated in the forward bay, but sensors are distributed everywhere in the vehicle like a nerve system. Credits: ESA.

The IXV control system uses four reaction control engines arranged on the aft bulkhead is such a way to provide control torques in all three axes. The relative orientation of the four engines is such that by pairing them it is possible to command pitch, roll and yaw rotations. For the atmospheric flight, two elevons trailing the aft end of the vehicle, implement pitch and roll control capability. These elevons are powered by electromechanical actuators. All on board systems are single string, no redundancy, and are managed by an on-board computer that derives navigation information from an inertial reference system, and a GPS receiver. An extended telemetry acquisition system, derived from the Vega and Ariane programs, is used to collect data from more than 300 sensors distributed inside the vehicle to monitor thermal and structural stresses throughout the flight. The vehicle is battery powered.

Tomorrow morning we will provide you with additional details about the mission profile and some characteristics of the flight. We are following the event in close cooperation with Altec SpA, the Company responsible for the ground segment and the flight operations of IXV. Tomorrow we will report directly from the IXV Mission Control Centre in Turin, Italy. This is a Spaceflight exclusive.

F. Bernardini, FBIS

We kindly acknowledge the assistance of Mr. Alessandro Bellomo, Altec SpA, IXV Ground Segment Program Manager.

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