TOURS, France — The European Space Agency remains on the hunt for an alternate method of launching the Experimental Re-Entry Testbed (Expert) following the withdrawal of Russia, which was due to launch the vehicle from a submarine earlier this year.
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.
Disclosing news of the continuing search at the AIAA and French AAAF Space Planes and Hypersonics conference here, Laurent Serre of the French national research agency Onera says “the Expert capsule is ready for flight. Russia was supposed to launch it but announced it would be canceled. So ESA is looking for alternative to launch and the Expert is stored.”
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.
Expert had already been delayed several times and appeared to be on track for a launch in mid-2012 when the Russian defense ministry withdrew its offer to provide launch services. The original launch contract between ESA and Russia’s Makeyev State Rocket Center was valued at around €2 million when announced in December 2009.
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.
The IXV will be used to validate large cross-range and precision landing capabilities from low Earth orbit and is due to be recovered by parachute for a water landing in the mid-Pacific.