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ESA experimental spaceplane completes research flight extending Europe’s capability for space exploration


Recovery of ESA’s Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle in the Pacific Ocean just west of the Galapagos islands.

The Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) developed by ESA, the European Space Agency, flew a flawless re-entry and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on 11 February 2015.

For the first time Europe launched and landed an unmanned spaceplane that has no wings but instead features an aerodynamic shape that produces the lift to fly through the atmosphere. IXV’s sophisticated guidance, navigation and control system used the body’s lifting shape, two flaps and four thrusters to navigate through the atmosphere in a way to withstand the pressures and friction while heading to the precise landing point in the Pacific Ocean. The thrusters and flaps worked together to change IXV’s flight attitude – an important advance on ESA’s first experiments with the conical Atmospheric Reentry Demonstrator, or ARD, flown in 1998.

Mastering such re-entry will open a new chapter for ESA. The capability is a cornerstone for reusable launcher stages, sample return from other planets and crew return from space. Many technologies and systems demonstrated by IXV are also key elements for the implementation of ISECG´s Global Exploration Roadmap. Italy has led the IXV project, which represents the industrial, technological and scientific expertise of a consortium of around 40 industries, research centres and universities, mainly in Italy, France, Spain, Switzerland, Belgium, Ireland and Portugal, with support coming from Germany and the Netherlands.

For more information about ESA’s IXV re-entry vehicle mission please visit:

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