Europe has gotten pretty good at shuttling supplies to the ISS by way of their robotic cargo vessels. But the process thus far has been a tad on the costly side, what with the entire shuttle burning up on re-entry every time. Well, the days of kamikaze robot pilots making suicidal cargo deliveries looks like it will soon be at an end, thanks to the development of a new reusable spaceship.
While the U.S. cracked the reusable shuttle nut a while ago, Europe doesn't quite have the storied history that Americans and Russians share. They're also attacking the shuttle design from an entirely different angle than the old U.S. designs. Robot pilots notwithstanding.
The new shuttle, dubbed the IXV Spacecraft, will be launched into orbit via Europe's Vega rocket platform. Once the shuttle's mission is complete, the real fun will begin. Described as a man-made meteor, the spacecraft will reach hypersonic speeds during re-entry. Angle of descent, atmospheric resistance and a series of flaps and parachutes will all contribute to a splashdown speed of approximately 16 miles per hour — a speed which was achieved in last week's splashdown test. Granted, the IXV was only dropped from 10,000 feet, but future tests are in the works which will further push the envelope for Europe's robotic spacecraft of tomorrow.