ESA has delayed the launch of its Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV), originally planned for Nov. 18. The decision to delay the launch was made to allow the agency time to gather further information on the unusual trajectory into which the Vega rocket will be launched.
Once underway, the test flight will see the IXV concept spaceplane catapulted into an eastward-heading sub-orbital course, representing a significant departure from the norm for the Vega launch vehicle. Until now, the rocket has only inserted spacecraft into a polar orbit, therefore ESA is keen to gain a better understanding of vehicle performance should any issues occur at launch.
The test flight will look to test a number of the IXV's systems, with the primary goal of putting the spaceplane's heat shield through its paces. The shield itself is comprised of a combination of ceramic plates and ablative materials similar to those being used in the construction of NASA's next generation Orion spacecraft.
In order to stress-test the protective layer enough to simulate a return mission from low-Earth orbit, the Vega rocket will propel the IXV to a height of 420 km (261 miles) above the Earth's surface, causing the spaceplane to enter the atmosphere at speeds of around 7.5 km/s (4.7 miles/s). In all, the testing flight will last roughly 100 minutes from launch to splashdown in the Pacific ocean, providing vital data on many of IXV's most vital functions, including aerodynamic, navigation and control systems.
ESA is due to announce the revised launch date over the coming weeks.