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Sunday 6 March 2016

ESA's spaceplane, will it ever happen?

Above:  A schematic of the defunct HERMES spaceplane. Courtesy of ESA.
ESA, the European Space Agency, has been looking to develop a re-useable spacecraft for a long time - when I was younger they talked about a miniature shuttle called Hermes, but that didn't work out, partly due to funding troubles. Since then they've mainly concentrated in their incredibly successful unmanned missions, although they've sent astronauts to the International Space Station on Russian spacecraft. But last year ESA tested the 'Intermediate Experimental Vehicle' (IXV), a sort of prototype for a reusable space vehicle... 

Above: A rundown on the IXV test craft, which flew into space for the first time last year. Courtesy of ESA

...and they've also invested 30 million dollars in the Dreamchaser mini-shuttle, expressing an interest in launching them on top of ESA.s Ariane 5 rocket. Sierra Nevada systems have even redesigned the Dreamchaser so it will work with the Ariane. 

Above: A rundown on the unmanned, folding wing, version of the Dreamchaser spacecraft.

It seems that ESA dreams of their own re-useable spacecraft aren't as dead as some assumed, and who can blame them? The age of the mini-shuttle could truly be upon us: The U.S. airforce has even developed their own spaceplane - the X37-B - because they missed the Shuttle's capabilities. ESA is keeping it's plans close to its chest, however with them talking seriously about a manned lunar base it seems their ambitions for the coming decade have been awakened...

Above: The X37-B.

Elsewhere in the Universe:
Milestone for the LISA gravitational wave mission
Mars was destroyed by its volcanos
Director of Star Wars Episode 9 floats the idea of filming in space.

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