Re-usable Rocket Technology: Ready, Set, Re-launch

After its first test launch in early February, the European Space Agency has been given the green light to soar into space with the robotic space plane, Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV), in 2019. This second attempt follows February’s successful test launch that blasted the craft 256 miles high, before diving into the Pacific Ocean an hour and a half later – the recovery ship landing not far away.

The 2019 launching attempt will focus on strategically placing the space plane on land after orbiting earth, rather than crashing it into the ocean, and thus, destroying it. The initiative, created by Europe PRIDE (Programme for Re-usable In-Orbit Demonstrator for Europe), requires specific landing equipment, similar to a parachute in order to ensure the rocket does not get damaged upon its return.

The focus to preserve rockets has become a trending practice known as re-usable rocket technology or reentry technology, which initially preserves the rocket for following launches in order to save money. The ESA has recently seen another positive affirmation that they are moving in the right direction with reentry technology, as they were able to capture vital data this week from the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) that burst into pieces in the atmosphere. Although the purpose of ATV was quite different, both launches serve a vital role in calculating data for future reentry landings.

Pleased with the first launch, ESA manager Giorgio Tumino stated “The mission was extremely precise…we landed where we wanted to be.” Tumino and the 60 people involved in making February’s launch successful have already started convening and aggregating data to accomplish a better and safer launch and landing approach – zooming in on heat protection, due to the friction from reentry. Within the next six weeks, the ESA will also provide further information regarding the 2019 launch.

In addition, similar reentry news ignited early February for the US when Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite attempted to launch a reentry mission with SpaceX’s reusable spacecraft Falcon9, but was aborted due to inclement weather.