ASI - Agenzia Spaziale Italiana - Mission and Projects ASI - Agenzia Spaziale Italiana - Mission and Projects

IXV

Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle

The Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle, or IXV, is designed to test the possibility of controlled atmospheric re-entry from a low Earth orbit. The program is run by the European Space Agency and has been strongly supported by Italy which, through the Italian Space Agency, is leading the project and funding around 40% of the costs. The industrial design and construction of the IXV mission were led by Thales Alenia Space - Italy (TAS-I).


Vehicle specs


IXV has an unconventional “lifting-body” conic shape, making it highly aerodynamic and easy to manoeuvre. It is 5 metres long, 1.5 metres high and 2.2 metres wide, weighing in at nearly 2 tonnes.

It has its own high-performance driving, navigation and control system which uses mobile, automatically controlled aerodynamic surfaces, and is equipped with a ceramic heat shield to protect the vehicle's lower part and "nose" from the high temperatures created as the vehicle travels through Earth's atmosphere.

 

 

 


The Mission


The IXV mission left Kourou space station in French Guiana on board the European VEGA launcher on 11 February 2015. Vega followed its equatorial launch trajectory, sending the space plane on its own suborbital path when it reached 320 km altitude. Immediately afterwards, IXV rose to 413 km before beginning its descent towards Earth, reaching a maximum speed of 7.5 km/second when entering the atmosphere. Meanwhile, the signal was tracked by the Libreville and Malindi stations on Earth. After a "blank" lasting about 20 minutes, at 4pm (Italian time) the recovery ship picked up the signal from IXV. The module then gradually increased speed until the 4 parachutes opened one after the other at 30 km altitude. The space plane finally splashed-down into the Pacific Ocean - using its four flotation devices - around 4600 km from the coast of Colombia, just above the equator. IXV was then recovered by the specially-equipped ship.

The data collected from IXV will be fundamental for designing and constructing future re-entry systems, destined for various activities in "near" space, such as recovering refuse or transporting supplies and astronauts to the International Space Station.

 


Mission control centres


The ALTEC mission control centre in Turin continued to check the position and performance of IXV throughout the mission. ALTEC was also responsible for coordinating the Earth-bound activities, including the stations in Libreville, Gabon and ASI centre in Malindi, Kenya, as well as the ship sent to recover the vehicle in the Pacific Ocean.


Italy's role



The IXV program is run by the European Space Agency with strong support from Italy which, through the Italian Space Agency, is leading the project and funding around 40% of the costs. The Italian Space Agency partnered with CIRA to offer the program technical assistance for in-flight experiments, aerodynamics, aero-thermodynamics and operations.

ASI also made the ASInet network available for the IXV project along with the instruments at the ALTEC control centre in Turin, which followed the IXV vehicle throughout its mission. ALTEC was also responsible for coordinating the Earth-based activities, including the Libreville, Gabon station and the ASI centre in Malindi, Kenya, as well as the ship sent to recover the vehicle in the Pacific Ocean.

The industrial design and construction for the IXV mission were led by Thales Alenia Space – Italy, which coordinates a business network of around 40 firms throughout Europe.

Thales Alenia Space Italy is the "Design Authority" for the System, in charge of integrating the vehicle and testing (including experiments, aerodynamics, aero-thermodynamics, trajectory, GNC, software, thermal aspects, mechanics, vehicle avionics, etc.).

The IXV project has provided a unique opportunity to consolidate and organise national competences in hyper-sonic flight, with an eye to playing an increasingly important role in the future.

The project involved industries, universities and research centres across numerous fields:


Alenia Aermacchi – Avionics subsystem and software 
Selex – Power Distribution Unit 
Avio – Ablative thermal protection system 
AeroSekur – Flotation subsystems
Altec – Mission control centre and Earthbound segment 
TelematicSolutions – Earth stations, Antennas and Telemetry 
Telespazio – Communications network
Elv – Mission analysis support
DTM- Specific components in composite materials
Neri – Recovery operations

 

CIRA – Experimentation, aero-thermodynamics, support for system "drop test" in the Mediterranean and launch operations 
CNR/INSEAN – Water impact test
UniRoma – Aero-thermodynamics and Computational fluid dynamics 
UniNapoli – Aero-thermodynamics and wind tunnel testing
UniPadova – Propulsion system component testing