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Pictures: Italy's unmanned space vehicle makes first flight

The unmanned space vehicle (USV) developed by Italian research agency CIRA as a sophisticated flying research laboratory created in cooperation with national aerospace industries, successfully completed its first mission on Saturday on Salto di Quirra’s Italian Armed Forces joint test range in Sardinia.

The launch took place from Tortolì airport adjacent to the test range at 08:30, when the USV was released attached to an inflatable stratospheric balloon, which took the aircraft to an altitude of 31km (19.4miles) in around 2h. As soon as the balloon reached the safety trial area, it descended to 21km, where it released the vehicle.

Falling at a speed of Mach 1.05, at an altitude between 16km and 10km, the experimental phase took place, consisting a manoeuvre in trans-sonic conditions, carried out fully automatically by the on-board computer. Thanks to more than 500 on-board sensors, aero-structural and aerodynamics scientific data was collected and transmitted to the ground.  A three-stage parachute system permitted the aircraft to splash-down safely into the sea and recovered by an Italian navy vessel.

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