The European Space Agency (ESA) Space Shuttle is to be designed at the CIRA space research centre in Capua, Campania, according to a release from the Italian Government on Tuesday.
The ambitious project is currently being debated by scientists and researchers from all over the world at the 13th International Conference on space vehicles and hypersonic technology. The conference has taken place outside the US only three times before, and will last until the 20th May.
The conference will focus on the Italian and European project regarding a pilot-less space vehicle – the USV – and a space lab under construction at the CIRA, which should enable Italy to become European leader in reusable launch-pads.
The technology demonstrator USV – only eight metres in length and four metres in wingspan 4 metres – will carry a 50kg payload on a test launch at the end of 2005, to be launched from the firing range of Salto di Quirra, Sardinia.
A special balloon will carry it to an altitude of 24km, then it will start its supersonic launch.
“The USV flight will entail a considerable increase in knowledge for the SME taking part in the project. CIRA looks to supersonic flight in the atmosphere and above,” said a CIRA press release.
“The US, with the X43-A, are already at an advanced stage of hypersonic flight, but we are the world’s second country in this technology. This is a unique project”.
These tests are aimed at gathering the know-how needed to replace the current US Space Shuttle fleet, which is set to retire in 2010. This stage of operations has totalled 179 million euros, with current expenditure totalling 86 million euros. The remaining funds will be used to include the USV in the European Vega launcher programme.