Europe's experimental mini-space shuttle mission complete
Iran Press TV
Thu Feb 12, 2015 4:48PM
The European Space Agency (ESA) has successfully launched and brought back to Earth an experimental craft in an attempt to master the key phase in orbital flight.
The unmanned space plane, the Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV), was launched by a Vega rocket on Wednesday at ESA's base in French Guiana and after a sub-orbital flight to test re-entry technologies brought back to Earth successfully.
"The mission has come to an end according to plan.... It couldn't have been better," ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain said in a live webcast.
The IXV, a five-meter (16-feet) two-ton wedge-shaped craft, ascended to an altitude of more than 400 kilometers (250 miles), headed eastward, and then descended to the Earth at a hydrosonic speed.
The crafts splashed down in the Pacific Ocean around 3,000 kilometers west of the Galapagos Islands where it was picked up by a recovery ship and then transferred to ESA's technical center in the Netherlands.
The 100-minute operation marks the first step for Europe in an effort to follow the United States, Russia and China in mastering the skill of not just launching a spacecraft but also bringing it home intact.
ESA's spacecrafts have gone one-way. They are either sent out into the Solar System, never to return, or they are deliberately destroyed at the end of their missions. The IXV operation is considered a breakthrough for Europeans in filling the gap in ESA's range of skills.
"Europe has demonstrated it has the technological grounds to perform return-from-orbit missions," the program chief, Giorgio Tumino, said, adding, "It's a very big day for Europe."
The craft was equipped with sensors to monitor its performance in the demanding task of re-entry, where it needed to cope with searing temperatures and follow a glide trajectory to the chosen splashdown site.
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