I came across this ESA animation and thought it might be interesting. After being launched into space, the IXV – or Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle – will return to earth as if from a low-Earth orbit mission, testing brand-new European atmospheric re-entry technologies during its hypersonic and supersonic flight phases. For ESA, the mission is essential to further develop critical technologies for future robotic or manned spacecraft.
In 2012, Vega will carry ESAÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle into space. The vehicle will then return to Earth to test a range of enabling systems and technologies for atmospheric re-entry. The video shows computer-generated animations of the vehicle and its mission.
The IXV project objectives are the design, development, manufacturing, and on-ground and in-flight verification of an autonomous European lifting and aerodynamically controlled re-entry system. Among the critical technologies of interest, special attention is being paid to: ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¢advanced instrumentation for aerodynamics and aerothermodynamics ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¢thermal protection and hot-structures solutions ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¢guidance, navigation and flight control through a combination of jets and aerodynamic flaps
IXV will be launched in 2012 from EuropeÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s spaceport at Kourou, French Guiana, using the new Vega small launch vehicle. After re-entering the EarthÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s atmosphere and being slowed down by air drag, IXV will descend by parachute and land in the Pacific Ocean to await recovery and post-flight analysis
There’s also a more technical interview at this site with a downloadable file in WinMedia, Quicktime and MP4 formats.