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IXV Project

IXV Project

Ablative Thermal Protection System for IXV. Case Studies

European Space Agency’s (ESA) IXV.

The Ablative Thermal Protection System is part of the Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV) by integration of Amorim’s P50 cork composite in the project. It has been introduced in order to protect the structure of IXV from the effects of the thermal environment starting from the stand-by on ground phase, up to the atmospheric reentry and descent phases.


IXV ablative TPS design involved several aspects of the engineering world.

It was a multidisciplinary program that covered various fields, from very peculiar numerical simulations such as those on aerothermodynamics or dynamic environment, to material science problems to find the correct materials to fulfill the very demanding requirements, to technological difficulties to perform integration of hundreds of parts with required precision of a few tenth’s of a millimeter.


All these aspects were managed through the integrated work of several teams involved in the project and under the technical coordination of Thales Alenia Space Italy and ESA. The result was a flawless flight performed on the 11th of February 2015. Now the effort will be in reviewing the huge amount of flight data in order to verify the correctness of the calculation models and technological choices.


Thanks to the IXV mission, Europe has proven its know-how for return missions from orbit.

 In particular, at the technologies level it qualified:

  • The structure, showing increased reusability and reability in comparison to other existing designs;
  • The combined use of rockets and flaps for flight control, which increased the controllability and maneuverability for a precise landing;
  • The understanding of aerothermodynamics phenomena, meaning future reentry missions can be more precisely designed with narrower error margins.
“IXV has opened a new chapter for ESA in terms of reentry capabilities and reusability.”

Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA Director General (font:


Two materials are used for the ablative TPS:

  • Amorim P50 cork composite material with very high thermal insulating performance;
  • AVIO SV2 silicone based material for covering antennas and electronic devices in order to assure radio transparency for ground to spacecraft communications.

Due to the TPS´s high thickness all the tiles are realized by 3D machining, the P50 material is then bonded on the spacecraft structure by means of different high strength adhesives depending on the interface characteristics. Considering that the structures surface where the TPS tiles have to be bonded is made of several materials (CFRP, titanium alloys, aluminum alloys) with different surface finishing and treatment, more than ten different bonded interfaces needed to be characterized and qualified.

“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.”

Gaele Winters, ESA Director of Launchers


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