An experimental ‘space plane’ has been launched by the European Space Agency.
The Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle blasted off atop a Vega rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.
The five-meter-long craft weighs about two tons, and flew to more than 450 kilometers above Earth on the mission.
The 100-minute flight was a first for the space shuttle-like miniature plane. But the unmanned vehicle is not intended as a straightforward blueprint for a usable transfer vehicle, but as "a building block for reusable space transportation systems".
“After separating from Vega 320 km above Earth, the five-metre-long, two-tonne vehicle will climb to a height of around 450 km and then descend for reentry, recording a vast amount of data from a large number of conventional and advanced sensors.
After manoeuvring to decelerate from hypersonic to supersonic speeds, IXV will deploy a multistage parachute to slow the descent further. Flotation balloons will keep it afloat after splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, where it will be recovered by a ship for detailed analysis.”