Tue, Feb 17, 2015 - Page 1 News List

ESA ends ‘space truck’ program, tests space plane

AFP, PARIS

The European Space Agency’s Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle is retrieved from the Pacific Ocean just west of the Galapagos Islands after a successful suborbital test on Wednesday last week.

Photo: AFP / ESA

The European Space Agency (ESA) on Sunday said it had destroyed its last supply ship to the International Space Station days after testing a prototype space plane in a strategy to join an elite club of space powers.

The last of five robot delivery vessels that ESA pledged for the space station, the Georges Lemaitre, burned up in a suicide plunge into Earth’s atmosphere, the agency said.

At the control center in Toulouse, the end of the seven-year project was greeted with emotional scenes, according to an ESA tweet, while NASA sent its congratulations, also via Twitter.

The spaceship had separated from the station on Saturday at the end of a six-month mission to bring air, water, food and other essentials to the station crew.

Nearly 11m long and weighing about 20 tonnes at launch, the Automated Transfer Vehicles were used for storage and habitation, and their thrusters boosted the station’s altitude.

On Wednesday last week, the agency took a wedge-shaped wingless robot craft on a suborbital flight to test re-entry technologies in a 100-minute operation.

It marks the first step in an effort to emulate the US, Russia and China in mastering the skill of not just launching a spacecraft, but also bringing it home intact.

“The mission has come to an end according to plan. It couldn’t have been better,” ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain said in a live Web cast.

Mission officials cheered and hugged after the car-sized craft dubbed the Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle splashed down on schedule in the Pacific Ocean.

Program manager Giorgio Tumino said the operation had been a “100 percent success.”

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