With one reportedly flawless test flight already under its belt, officials are already planning a European space plane for its next test.
The manager for the European Space Agency's shuttle-like Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) robotic space plane is getting ready for the program's next approved flight in 2019 or 2020. IXV performed its first uncrewed space test, launching to space and then landing in the ocean 100 minutes later on Feb. 11.
Officials working with IXV are hoping to bring the space plane down on land instead of in the ocean for its next test in the coming years. To do this, they will either install a landing gear or use a parachute-like "parafoil" to set it down safely.
Meetings to figure out the next phase will begin in March, with the heavy design work starting in the summer. Meanwhile, data from the first IXV test flight will be analyzed in great detail, Tumino said, focusing on elements such as the thermal protection during re-entry.
Building up re-entry expertise
One main goal of IXV was to figure out how to bring a spacecraft back to Earth safely in order to use it again, officials have said.
During its first flight to space, the space plane soared as high as 256 miles (412 kilometers) before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean, west of the Galapagos Islands and within sight of its recovery ship. Tumino remained at the launch site in Kourou, French Guiana to co-ordinate the 60 or so people involved in the mission.
"This mission was extremely precise," Tumino said. "We landed where we were supposed to be, and all the systems and subsystems worked perfectly," Tumino said. "I would say we are really happy about the mission result."