The European Space Agency (ESA) plans to launch its 1,900-kilogram, 5-meter-long atmospheric re-entry demonstrator vehicle in late 2013 aboard one of the first five Vega rockets operated from Europe’s French Guiana spaceport following a demonstrator production agreement signed June 21.

The lifting-body Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV), whose entire mission has been budgeted at 150 million euros ($210 million) including launch, will be placed into a 450-kilometer orbit by a Vega. It will reach a speed of 7.5 kilometers per second as it re-enters the atmosphere following a flight of slightly less than one full orbit.

Launched over the south Atlantic from Europe’s equatorial launch base, IXV will land by parachute in the south Pacific, where it will be recovered by a waiting ship.

Luigi Pasquali, deputy chief executive of IXV prime contractor Thales Alenia Space, said mastering atmospheric re-entry is “essential for Europe as we think of future vehicles for space transportation and solar system exploration.”

The last time Europe tested an atmospheric re-entry system — apart from the Huygens probe that descended into the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan, which was not designed to survive landing — was in 1998, when it launched the capsule-shaped Atmospheric Reentry Demonstrator.