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Iran Press TV

Europe's experimental mini-space shuttle launched successfully

Iran Press TV

Wed Feb 11, 2015 5:5PM

The European Space Agency (ESA) has successfully launched an experimental craft designed to return to Earth at the end of its mission.

The ESA announced on Wednesday that a Vega rocket lifted off from the agency's space center in Kourou, French Guiana, at 1340 GMT bearing the unmanned space plane, the Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV).

"Separation successful," launch control announced after the payload separated from Vega rocket following an 18-minute ride.

The launch helps the Europeans master a key phase in orbital flight – the ability to return to Earth. The IXV, a five-meter (16-feet) two-ton wingless experimental re-entry vehicle, is the first step in filling the gap in ESA's range of skills.

Europe can launch satellites, robot explorers and supply ships but does not have the capability to bring them back to Earth. It also doesn't have the capacity for human flight – European astronauts instead have been taken aloft and returned to Earth aboard the US space shuttle or Russia's Soyuz.

The automated 100-minute sub-orbital flight will take the IXV to a height of just over 400 kilometers (250 miles) before the spacecraft descends at hypersonic speed. It will then deploy a parachute and splash down in the Pacific Ocean around 3,000 kilometers west of the Galapagos Islands before being picked up by a recovery ship.

The craft is equipped with sensors to monitor its performance in the demanding task of re-entry, where it will have to cope with searing temperatures and follow a glide trajectory to the chosen splashdown site.


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