Europe to test spaceplane in bid for its first reusable space tech
* IXV wingless spaceplane to be launched Wed at 1300 GMT
* ESA will use unmanned IXV to test re-entry technologies
* Could pave way for Europe's first reusable spaceplane
BERLIN, Feb 10 (Reuters) - The European Space Agency (ESA) is due to launch an experimental spaceplane from its spaceport in French Guiana on Wednesday which it hopes will pave the way towards Europe's first reusable space transportation systems.
ESA's Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV), which is the size of a car, will lift off at 1300 GMT aboard a rocket before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean around 100 minutes later.
IXV, which ESA says cost around 150 million euros ($169 million) in design, development and related ground support, will separate from the rocket at an altitude of 320 kilometres (200 miles) and will coast up to an altitude of 450 kilometres before beginning re-entry.
The spaceplane will decelerate to supersonic from hypersonic speeds and then deploy a parachute to slow further. Flaps and thrusters will autonomously steer it to splash down in the water, where flotation balloons will keep it from sinking so it can be recovered by ship.
While Europe is well advanced in launcher technology and in orbiting systems, it is behind the United States when it comes to systems enabling a return to earth, IXV project manager Giorgio Tumino told Reuters.
There are risks that Wednesday's mission may not run smoothly. "We have done all we can to secure it, but it is experimental. We know something could go wrong but we're keeping our fingers crossed," he said. Continuación...