November 16, 2004

CNES and Aquitaine Regional Council join forces for atmospheric re-entry programmes

Atmospheric re-entry represents a key challenge for the space community. Two European projects backed by the Aquitaine Regional Council are currently focusing on this extremely tricky phase of a spaceflight mission, which involves getting a spacecraft—and its crew—through the atmosphere and back to Earth unscathed.
8 November 2004

Two experimental projects

Initiated by CNES, Pre-X is an experimental vehicle designed to demonstrate for the first time in Europe the ability to re-enter the atmosphere using a gliding trajectory, like an aircraft. This technique, already employed by the US space shuttles, is a key flight phase for future launch vehicles and will find applications in human spaceflight, planetary exploration and exobiology.

The Pre-X demonstrator will test unpowered atmospheric re-entry. The US space shuttles use this technology, landing like an aircraft on a longitudinal descent trajectory through the atmosphere. They are controlled by flaps, or control surfaces.

Among the programme’s objectives, Pre-X aims to demonstrate the maturity of reusable thermal protection technologies, validate the guidance, navigation and control (GNC) system, and characterize associated aerothermodynamic phenomena. Its first flight is scheduled for 2008.
EXPERT will study physical phenomena during ballistic re-entry.
EXPERT will study physical phenomena during ballistic re-entry.
EXPERT is a European project that aims to study certain physical aspects of ballistic re-entry, that is, when a vehicle is descending vertically like a missile. Trials set to start in 2007 will seek to highlight fundamental aerodynamic and aerothermodynamic phenomena during this phase, after which the vehicle will be braked by parachute before landing.

Local authorities on board

CNES is quite naturally positioned as a leading European player in future launch vehicles. To this end, it has been funding French centres of excellence working on atmospheric re-entry technologies for several years, at EADS SPACE Transportation, Dassault Aviation, Snecma Propulsion Solide, Astrium SAS and ONERA, the French aerospace research agency.

Space agencies are not alone in going down this path. The Aquitaine region of south-west France is Europe’s premier player in aerospace and leads the way in guided atmospheric re-entry. It has succeeded in building a solid industrial base around major prime contractors such as EADS SPACE Transportation, which has established a leadership position in re-entry technologies, and Snecma Propulsion Solide and Turbomeca.

On 22 October, the President of the Aquitaine Regional Council and the CNES President signed a partnership agreement concerning the Pre-X and EXPERT programmes. Through this agreement, Aquitaine intends to forge closer ties with industry, local laboratories and national organizations—a challenge of economic and strategic importance.

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