IXV is a European atmospheric reentry demonstrator characterised by high aerodynamic properties achieved by taking advantage of the shape of the fuselage, designed to maximise lift and maneuverability. The vehicle is also equipped with a high performance guidance, navigation and control system that uses aerodynamic surfaces during the atmospheric reentry phase and with a thermal protection system to withstand the heat generated during reentry into the atmosphere. The main objectives of the IXV project are:

  • Demonstration of the ability to design, build and operate a complete reentry system
  • Testing of the new technologies used
  • Validation and testing of the systems used.

The launch of the IXV (11 February 2015) called for the use of the European VEGA launcher,  from the Kourou base (French Guiana) with injection into equatorial orbit. After the separation  from Vega at an altitude of 320 km, IXV continued its ascent until reaching an altitude of 412 km, then beginning the reentry phase in which the experimental data was acquired through the special instrumentation with which the vehicle was equipped. Lasting about 100 minutes, the mission ended after the parachute descent phase, with the splash-down in the Pacific Ocean, where the vehicle was secured by a specially equipped recovery ship.

The knowledge acquired through IXV, a project supported strongly by the Italian Space Agency (ASI), will be an essential building block for the development of future applications in the space transportation and Solar System exploration fields. The IXV’s successor, a preoperational vehicle called PRIDE (Programme for Reusable In-Orbit Demonstrator in Europe), is a sort of automatic mini-shuttle that can be recovered, together with its payload, and potentially reused in subsequent missions.

The evolution of IXV will include a winged body and will combine the peculiarities of a space system designed for scientific experiments in low earth orbit with the characteristics needed to make a winged vehicle guidable even outside the atmosphere until its automatic landing on a conventional assisted runway.

Leonardo participates in the programme through its joint ventures Thales Alenia Space and Telespazio and through its Aircraft Division and Airborne & Space Systems Division.

photo credits ESA

Thales Alenia Space

Thales Alenia Space as prime contractor for the European Space Agency (ESA) is responsible for the overall activities, and also heads a consortium formed by the main European industries to which research centers and universities also contribute.

The final integration and test phase of the vehicle took place at the Thales Alenia Space site in Turin, whereas the environmental tests were carried out at ESTEC (European Space Research and Technology Centre), in the Netherlands.


In addition to the actual vehicle, the IXV programme also included the development of the ground segment, including stations that followed the vehicle trajectory and the Mission Control Center, which was hosted at ALTEC in Turin.

These activities were managed by Telespazio which designed and developed, the Ground Segment Network (GSN) of IXV with ALTEC and OHB, besides realizing the network connecting the ALTEC Mission Control Center in Turin with stations at Fucino, Kourou, Libreville, Malindi, the IXV demonstrator and the support ship.

The Aircraft Division

As a system integrator and first level provider for Thales Alenia Space, the Aircraft Division, developed the test environment used for integration and qualification of the avionics subsystem and software, and the Electrical Ground Support Equipment supplied for the electric-functional integration activities on the aircraft.

It also developed the IXV power supply activation and ground control devices and the telemetry and remote controls amplification system of both used on the launching pad.

Airborne &Space Systems Division

Besides the Aircraft Division which contributed to the programme with the development of an avionic subsystem and software for the experimental flight, Finmeccanica was involved in the IXV project also through its Airborne & Space Systems Division, which provided the IXV with the Power Protection and Distribution Unit able to supply electric power towards the power lines of the vehicle.

This equipment also offers functions to limit the power supply, the command of the reaction control system valves, the pyrotechnic actuators switch control and the connection and isolation of the power batteries’ lines.