IXV lifting off atop a Vega rocket (Image ESA)

Today the suborbital test of IXV (Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle) was conducted. It’s an ESA experimental spacecraft that is designed to verify the some rentry technologies. IXV was launched on a Vega rocket in the launch indicated as VV04 from the Kourou space center in French Guyana.

The final purpose for ESA is to build a spacecraft capable of returning to Earth autonomously. Over the years, ESA has built various types of spacecraft, including cargo ships, but none are able to return to Earth. For this reason, in 2002 it was decided to develop the technologies needed in order to build a spacecraft capable of bringing cargo from the International Space Station or from other missions in orbit.

Map of the polarisation of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (Image ESA and the Planck Collaboration)

Nearly two years after presenting the best map ever made of the cosmic microwave background radiation, ESA revealed another map created using data collected by the Planck Surveyor space probe between 2009 and 2013. This new map shows the polarization of the cosmic microwave background radiation dating back to the early stages of the universe. It shows that the first stars started forming about 550 million years after the Big Bang, 100 million years later than previously thought.

Planck view of BICEP2 field (Image ESA/Planck Collaboration. Acknowledgment: M.-A. Miville-Deschênes, CNRS – Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale, Université Paris-XI, Orsay, France)

In March 2014, the announcement that the BICEP2 (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) experiment had detected gravitational waves in the perturbations in the cosmic microwave background radiation existing in the universe was sensational. This echo of cosmic inflation occurred shortly after the Big Bang was an extraordinary discovery. Unfortunately, a collaboration between the BICEP2 experiment and the team of ESA’s Planck space telescope has determined that those weren’t gravitational waves but probably emissions caused by galactic dust.

Artistic concept of the ATV-5 cargo spaceship breaking the International Space Station

ESA’s 5-ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle 5) “Georges Lemaître” was used in a manner different from the usual. The cargo spacecraft is docked to the International Space Station since August 12 2014 and yesterday its thrusters were used to lower the Station about a kilometer. The purpose is to allow spaceships that reach it to carry a greater cargo.