Italy's Castore unmanned space vehicle (USV) made its first flight on 24 February, when it was released from a stratospheric balloon flying over the Italian armed forces' Salto di Quirra test range in Sardinia.

The USV has been developed by Italian aerospace research agency CIRA as a flying laboratory to investigate hypersonic flight on re-entry and in the atmosphere.

After launch from Tortolì airport adjacent to the test range, the balloon released the USV from 70,000ft (21,000m) altitude. The vehicle reached Mach 1.05 on its descent, automatically conducting transonic test manoeuvres between 16km and 10km. A three-stage parachute system allowed the USV to splash down safely for recovery by an Italian navy vessel.

Castore will alternate in the flying programme with its companion USV Polluce, to collect data on the final part of the re-entry trajectory.

Launch site was Tortoli airport
Castore USV 
© CIRA   

The USV reached Mach 1.05

Source: Flight International