ESA’s Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) has completed its mission to study re-entry capability for future reusable space transportation.

Lifted-off from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana aboard a Vega rocket, the IXV separated from the rocket at an altitude of 340km, and went through 412km.

During its re-entry, the 2t vehicle recorded data from more than 300 sensors and manoeuvred to decelerate to supersonic speed from hypersonic speed.

The IXV landed in the Pacific Ocean west of the Galapagos Islands, and was recovered by a vessel.

ESA will analyse the IXV at its technical centre, ESTEC, in the Netherlands.

"The IXV landed in the Pacific Ocean west of the Galapagos Islands, and was recovered by a vessel."

ESA director general Jean-Jacques Dordain said: "IXV has opened a new chapter for ESA in terms of re-entry capabilities and reusability.

"ESA and its member states, together with European space industry, are now ready to take up new challenges in several fields of space transportation, in future launchers, robotic exploration or human spaceflight."

The agency is expected to announce initial results from the flight in six weeks.

IXV project manager Giorgio Tumino said: "The cutting-edge technology we validated today, and the data gathered from the sensors aboard IXV, will open numerous opportunities for Europe to develop ambitious plans in space transportation for a multitude of applications."

Data from the mission will assess the Reusable In-Orbit Demonstrator for Europe (PRIDE) programme, which is preparing for launch on a Vega rocket.

The reusable Pride spacecraft is designed to orbit and land automatically on a runway.

Image: The ESA recovered the IXV from the Pacific Ocean. Photo: courtesy of ESA / Tommaso Javidi.