Live: watch the launch of Europe’s experimental and wingless spaceplane

The European Space Agency (ESA) is preparing to launch its next-generation spaceplane, known as the Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle or IXV. The five-meter-long, two-tonne vehicle will be launched on a Vega rocket to a height of 450 kilometres before descending for re-entry in the Pacific Ocean. The crewless mission will take no longer than 100 minutes but is intended to test, among other things, the craft’s protective thermal shells and its multi-stage parachutes. Flotation balloons will be deployed when it hits the ocean to stop it from sinking.

Information gathered from the launch and descent of the IXV will be used to develop future space programs — anything from reusable rockets to successors to the US Shuttle program. However,…

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