ESA Seeks New Ride for Re-entry Testbed Vehicle

Aviation Week reports that ESA is looking for an alternative launcher for its Experimental Re-Entry Testbed (Expert) after a plan to launch the vehicle from a Russian submarine fell through.

Expert is a ballistic flight re-entry demonstrator that, along with a follow-on Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV), is designed to pave the way for a European reusable space plane. The 450-kg (1,000-lb.) Expert was originally due to be launched in late 2010 on a modified Volna ICBM from a Russian submarine in the eastern Pacific.

The missile would have reached an apogee of 100 km (60 mi.) to 120 km, giving the vehicle a re-entry velocity of 5 km/sec., which was sufficient to help ESA acquire aerothermodynamics data for the validation of models and codes. The payload was due to be recovered by a parachute landing in the Kamchatka peninsula of eastern Russia.

The European atmospheric-re-entry capsule has been in development for 10 years as part of a €50 million ($64 million) research effort. The 1.6-meter long vehicle is configured with 150 different sensors, as well as test materials for the unmanned, lifting-body IXV. This vehicle is scheduled for launch in 2014 from Kourou, French Guiana, aboard ESA’s new Vega small-satellite launcher….

Work on the IXV, meanwhile, continues toward a planned preflight review scheduled for mid-2014 for both the ground segment and flight vehicle. The IXV, also being developed by a program led by Thales Alenia Space as prime contractor, is due to be launched around the third quarter of 2014.

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(Via ESA)

Expert: European eXPErimental Reentry Testbed

The Expert reentry vehicle is a flight testbed aiming to obtain aerothermodynamic (ATD) flight data to validate design tools, ground test facilities and verification techniques. The design and verification of future atmospheric missions will benefit significantly from flight validation of ATD methods, reducing uncertainties and improving reliability.

Expert’s mission is a suborbital ballistic reentry flight. The initial reentry velocity is 5 km/s, with a flight path angle of -5.5 at an altitude of 100 km.

The entry parameters have been chosen in order to correlate the flight measurements with the conditions simulated by ground facilities available in Europe, including plasma wind tunnels such as the Scirocco in Italy and Plasmatron in Belgium. This will allow validation of the ATD physical models with real flight conditions and correlation of ground testing facilities.

The top level mission objectives are:

  • To obtain flight data associated with critical ATD phenomena, such as boundary layer transition, gas surface and shock layer interactions, real-gas effects and plasma chemical composition
  • To reduce design margin and uncertainties using in-flight measured data to validate numerical database, computer fluid dynamic tools and to correlate ground test results
  • To develop engineering technologies and advanced materials for thermal protection system, and experiment with new instruments and advance sensors for ATD measurements techniques
  • To gain engineering knowhow within European industry on the development of reentry and transportation systems, increasing the Technological Readiness Level of these technologies.
Artist impression of IXV re-entry vehicle. (Credit: ESA)

Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV)

The Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV), under ESA’s Future Launchers Preparatory Programme (FLPP), is the step forward from the successful Atmospheric Reentry Demonstrator flight in 1998, establishing Europe’s role in this field.

The IXV project objectives are the design, development, manufacture and ground and flight verification of an autonomous European lifting and aerodynamically controlled reentry system, which is highly flexible and manoeuvrable. Among the critical technologies of interest, special attention has been paid to:

  • advanced instrumentation for aerodynamics and aerothermodynamics
  • thermal protection and hot-structure solutions
  • guidance, navigation and flight control through a combination of thrusters and aerodynamic flaps.