Check out the ESA's experimental new ISV hypersonic space plane

With all the buzz surrounding NASA’s Orion and SpaceX’s Dragon, it’s easy to forget that the folks at the European Space Agency (ESA) are also developing their own spacecraft.

The ESA is preparing a new test flight for the agency's Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV), which kind of looks like a car-sized, bullet-shaped space shuttle. Without wings.

According to Gizmodo, the unmanned test will take the craft 260 miles up into a suborbital trajectory, where the ESA will track its descent at 16,000+ mph. The test flight will basically simulate the typical return situation for a low-orbit mission.

The craft is cram-packed with data-collecting tech focused on power use, data processing and telemetry, not to mention a multi-stage supersonic parachute, actuators and flotation devices. The whole package is protected by ceramic and ablative thermal shells and carbon-fibre reinforced polymer structural panels. Sadly, all that tech takes up the space where a pilot might go.

The aim of the mission is to record a boatload of data as to how the craft handles re-entry, where it will reach supersonic and hypersonic speeds as it barrels back toward our planet on the way to a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

Check out some photos of the craft being constructed and prepared for launch below, via the ESA and NASA. The ESA has also compiled a nifty video on the craft's creation.

(Via Gizmodo)

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