Prototype Airbus Spaceplane Completes Drop Test

by

PARIS — Airbus Defence and Space Group on June 3 disclosed details of the first drop test, in the waters off the Singapore coast, of its planned spaceplane, saying the quarter-scale model was released from a helicopter at an altitude of 3,000 meters and successfully performed maneuvers simulating the vehicle’s end-of-mission descent.

The May 1-4 test, conducted in partnership with the Singapore Economic Development Board, was part of a low-level investment program at Airbus to maintain work on the spaceplane — designed to take passengers on low-gravity flights — as the company seeks one or more partners to develop a full-scale vehicle.

With the assistance of seven ships including a barge that served as a command vessel at the test site some 100 kilometers off the Singapore coast, the 135-kilogram spaceplane was lifted to an altitude of 3,000 meters and then dropped. Ground controllers took control of the vehicle during its descent.

Airbus declined to disclose the maximum velocity reached during the descent, but said the plane performed as expected and that its flight data recorders were recovered for a detailed postflight review.

Airbus said it was still evaluating the flight data and would determine the program’s next phase after the analysis was complete. For subsequent test flights, Airbus said it wanted to “investigate larger portions of the flight envelope, especially supersonic conditions.”

“We are currently investigating the flight data, and fidelity of our ground-based flight simulators will be increased accordingly,” the company said in response to SpaceNews inquiries. “For next flight-test step, it will be basically the same model customized for the new test conditions and with possibly some changes as recommended by our engineering and design office — standard process of aircraft design maturation vs. flight testing.”

 

Follow Peter on Twitter: @pbdes