February, 11th 2015 ESA has launched its unmanned space plane demonstrator IXV, for which SABCA developed the Flaps Control System

Feb 2015

The Flaps Control System was developed keeping a large synergy with the Thrust Vector Control Systems already developed and produced by SABCA for the four stages (motors) of the VEGA launcher.

The unmanned Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) has been launched atop a VEGA launcher from Kourou, flew East around the globe, before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.

Flaps and thrusters were used to control the trajectory, ensuring the IXV came down close to a recovery ship some 3,000km West of the Galapagos Islands.

Indeed a spaceplane is a vehicle that operates as a spacecraft when it is in space, as well as an aircraft in the Earth's atmosphere.

Critical re-entry technologies are:

  • Aerothermodynamics,
  • Thermal protection system,
  • Guidance, navigation and control

It is easy to understand that the Flaps Control System (actuators, power and drive electronics, power supply and software) developed by SABCA was a key element for the success of the mission. Without a perfect operation of this system the IXV spaceplane would have been lost during the ballistic phase.

ESA has approved a follow-on project called Pride (Programme for Reusable In-orbit Demonstrator in Europe). This would see the development of another re-entry vehicle but with a key difference - the ability to land on a runway. In-orbit servicing of satellites is a capability often discussed in this context as well.

"IXV has opened a new chapter for ESA in terms of reentry capabilities and reusability," explains Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA Director General.

"This mission will teach us a lot about the technologies we need to apply in new launch systems, in particular when we think about reusable systems”, notes Gaele Winters, ESA Director of Launchers.

"This was a short mission with big impact", notes Giorgio Tumino, IXV project manager.

The cutting-edge technology validated today, and the data gathered from the sensors aboard IXV, will open numerous opportunities for Europe to develop ambitious plans in space transportation for a multitude of applications.

ESA and its Member States, together with European space industry, are now ready to take up new challenges in several fields of space transportation, in future launchers, robotic exploration or human spaceflight.

For more information about the IXV mission, see ESA website.

SABCA is a leading Belgian Aerospace company for more than 90 years, employing 1000+ highly trained persons. SABCA is active in civil aircraft design and manufacturing (Airbus, Dassault, Gulfstream), military aircraft overhaul and upgrades (F16, Mirage F1, Alphajet, helicopters, etc…) as well as in space programs (Ariane, Vega). These activities cover structural work as well as thust vectoring systems and systems integration. SABCA has plants in Brussels and Charleroi, a fully owned subsidiary SABCA Limburg nv, specialized in aerospace composites, as well as ASM Aero, a new assembly plant in Morocco

For more information, write to:

Marketing & Sales Director SABCA

Fax +32 2 729 5896 or

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