The ESA’s Successful Spaceplane Launch Heats Up The Space Race

Space travel has become more than mere discussion these past few years, thanks to the efforts of private investor millionaires such as Richard Branson and Elon Musk. This has spurred global governments back into doing more to increase the potential for mass space travel after budget cuts have hampered efforts, most notably with NASA. The European Space Agency went about making another firm step in that direction a short time ago today.

The ESA has dealt with less recognition than other nations and their own space federations, in part due to criticism over a lack of success in having their rockets return from flight as opposed to U.S. & Russian return rates. As such, they made the move to launch their IXV today. The IXV, or Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle, was constructed last year to further the development of reentry tech for future ESA launches and missions. It carries no passengers mainly because of all of the integrated components, which include experimental subsystems to record data, telemetry and power usage. Not to mention the multi-stage supersonic parachute. The IXV’s design does have certain influences from the Space Shuttle in terms of its sleek architecture, one difference being that it is devoid of exterior wings.

The mission, entitled VV04, saw the IXV mounted atop a Vega Rocket to take off from the ESA’s space launching facility in Kourou, French Guiana. The countdown had been halted at 8:05 A.M. EST to take care of minor difficulties but resumed at 8:40 A.M. The launch went off successfully, with the IXV then setting forth on its 100-minute mission after being boosted into orbit and subsequent rocket separation. The IXV maintained an orbit along the Earth’s equator, all the while collecting important data within onboard computer systems. It then made a successful re-entry and splashdown, being collected by a retrieval ship 3,000 kilometers west of the Galapagos Islands.

ESA’s mission data procured by the IXV will be implemented for their PRIDE (Program Reusable In-Orbit Demonstrator for Europe) space vehicle that will be designed for future runway landings. This mission is also notable since the United States has been hard at work on creating their own resuable vehicles like the IXV – a sign that a new space race is only just beginning to heat up.