QinetiQ technology on board first European space taxi

05 Feb 2015
Artist's impression of IXV in flight (image courtesy of ESA)

Farnborough, 5 February 2015: QinetiQ technology will be responsible for guiding the European Space Agency’s IXV ‘space taxi’ safely back to earth on its maiden test flight, due for launch on 11 February 2015.

QinetiQ’s space division has supplied the onboard computer, core of the flight control system with a reliability rate of 99.997 per cent, which will ensure IXV’s fully automated return to Earth.

This powerful computer supplies the spacecraft with the intelligence necessary for a safe return flight, calculating the optimum angle for re-entering the atmosphere and making a controlled landing possible.

Koen Puimège, business development manager for QinetiQ’s space business, said: “We were selected thanks to our strong track record of pioneering roles in the development of similar systems. This project is an exciting opportunity to transfer our existing expertise in onboard computers for high-reliable autonomous satellites into the domain of high-reliable autonomous re-entry vehicles. It’s a fascinating emerging market that challenges today’s technology.

“The delivery of this contract further strengthens our position as a global supplier of important control systems for critical space applications.”

The IXV ‘space taxi’ is the first European initiative by the European Space Agency (ESA) to build a smaller alternative to the American Space Shuttle. The smaller format means lower costs linked to its construction and launch, while the controlled return to Earth, enabled by QinetiQ’s powerful and reliable system, means the spacecraft can be re-used.

IXV could be a suitable alternative to expensive space missions in the future, transporting cargo as well as astronauts into space and back again more economically. Possible future uses include increasing the lifespan of existing satellites, monitoring the Earth, testing new technologies and performing fundamental research in space.

The spacecraft is scheduled for launch from Kourou in French Guiana on 11 February and demonstrate its new technologies before parachuting into the sea, where it will float until a boat picks it up. In a follow-on programme the craft will land on an airfield landing strip.

QinetiQ has been commissioned for the ESA project by the Italian aerospace company Thales Alenia Space and Alenia-Aermacchi.

For an explanation of the computer’s technical specification, read our blog: How to build a space computer

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QinetiQ technology on board first European space taxi