QinetiQ technology passes European spacecraft IXV test flight


In a first for the European Space Agency, a test spacecraft has orbited Earth and returned on its own, thanks to technology developed by Flemish company QinetiQ Space

First of its kind

The European Space Agency’s unmanned spacecraft IXV has completed a successful test flight, partially thanks to technology developed by aerospace company QinetiQ Space from Kruibeke, East Flanders. It was the first time that a spacecraft returned to Earth completely autonomously.

After being launched at Kourou in French-Guiana, the IXV, or Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (pictured), went up to a height of 430 kilometres and then orbited around the Earth. After a flight of one-and-a-half hours, it entered the atmosphere again and landed in the southern part of the Pacific Ocean, where it was picked up by a special ship.

The purpose of the flight was to test both the fully automatic navigation system, the heat shield and the landing equipment. To fly unmanned and return on its own, the spacecraft relied on new computer technology, which was designed and installed by QinetiQ Space. The Brussels-based Von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics was also a partner in the European project.

The development of the experimental spacecraft took five years. Because of the controlled return to Earth, the IXV spacecraft can be re-used. In the future, QinetiQ Space’s technology can be used for space transport.