ESA urged to include EADS Phoenix in launcher plans

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German government backs inclusion of reusable space shuttle concept in programme

EADS Space is pushing for its Phoenix reusable space shuttle concept to be included in the European Space Agency's (ESA) future launcher preparatory programme (FLPP).

A one-seventh scale model of the Phoenix - an unmanned winged spacecraft that would be launched atop a rocket and glide back to Earth like NASA's Space Shuttle - last week underwent captive-carry flight tests over Vidsel in northern Sweden at 7,900ft (2,400m). A larger version would be used for FLPP.

"We are quite sure Phoenix will be a part of the [future launcher preparatory] programme", says Peter Kyr, head of EADS's reusable launch vehicle (RLV) demonstrator and International Space Station logistics research. He says the German government - a major contributor of funds to ESA -wants Phoenix to be part of FLPP.

ESA says Phoenix is a "strong candidate" for FLPP. The Phoenix scale model weighs 1,200kg (2,650lb), is 7m long and has a 3.9m wingspan. Funded by the German government and industry with €16 million ($19.4 million) over several years, the work has been led by EADS Space. Under FLPP, a larger demonstrator would be taken to 82,000ft by a jet fighter and dropped for free-flight transonic tests.

Last week's captive flight testing saw the vehicle suspended beneath a helicopter by a 5m cable. It was flown along a 10km (5.4nm) course to check its navigation and guidance equipment.

In May the vehicle will again be taken to 7,900ft over Vidsel, but then released for a free flight. The RLV will reach a speed of 430km/h (232kt) and fly back automatically to a landing site. Last month it successfully completed taxi and brake tests at speeds of up to 150km/h proving it could detect and correct track deviations on the ground.

ROB COPPINGER / LONDON