February 7, 2006

Gliding safely back to Earth

Developed by CNES, PRE-X is a reusable atmospheric re-entry vehicle that will demonstrate for the 1st time in Europe the ability to re-enter the atmosphere on an unpowered glidepath. The overall feasibility of the mission has now been validated and 1st flight is scheduled for 2009.
7 February 2006

Introducing PRE-X

Presented at the 6th International Symposium on Launcher Technologies in Munich, 8 to 10 November 2005, the PRE-X technology demonstrator has reached an important milestone in its development.

In late 2005, PRE-X successfully passed its system design review, giving the green light to launch the preliminary definition phase.

In other words, the overall feasibility of both the mission and the vehicle has now been validated.

This achievement comes after a long series of wind-tunnel tests in various European countries and Russia to define the vehicle’s aerodynamic profile.

Succeeding in atmospheric re-entry

The PRE-X project is highly innovative in 3 respects:

  • Its objective: to master unpowered gliding atmospheric re-entry. This mission phase is critical for any reusable spacecraft, as it has to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere on a glidepath, like an aircraft. Only the U.S. space shuttle uses a similar technique.

  • Operational control: the entire atmospheric re-entry phase will be performed in automatic mode. Given its small size (4.5 m) and weight (1,600 kg), PRE-X will not carry any crew, unlike the space shuttle.

  • Another unique feature: no runway will be needed, as PRE-X will parachute down into the Pacific for subsequent recovery.
The advances introduced on PRE-X will also have applications in launch vehicles, crewed spaceflight, planetary exploration and exobiology.
With this project, CNES has confirmed its position as a major player in future launchers in Europe. For several years, CNES has funded French centres of excellence in this segment, including EADS Space Transportation, Dassault Aviation, Snecma Propulsion Solide, Astrium and ONERA. At the same time, it relies on funding from the Aquitaine Regional Council.
The PRE-X project will soon be extended to Europe through ESA’s Future Launcher Preparatory Programme (FLPP).

PRE-X’s 1st flight is scheduled for 2009.
For targets: