Airbus Defence and Space is the European specialist in atmospheric re-entry. This is obviously critical if spacecraft are to return to Earth, but it is equally important for planetary exploration missions. The company’s unrivalled experience with ballistic missiles underpins broad technological expertise in the design of space vehicles, plus the specialised field of high-temperature materials.
Atmospheric re-entry is an essential space technology. Designated prime contractor by ESA, Airbus Defence and Space was in charge of developing the Atmospheric Re-entry Demonstrator (ARD). The ARD mission in 1998 was a complete success, giving Europe its first full-scale experience in controlled atmospheric re-entry.
Airbus Defence and Space made the thermal protection systems for all of Europe’s interplanetary missions. These include the Huygens probe, which was launched in 1997 and landed on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, in early 2005, and the Beagle 2 lander for ESA’s Mars Express mission.Today Airbus Defence and Space is involved in entry, descent and landing systems (EDLS) technology for the ExoMars Mars missions.
Following the ESA Ministerial Council meeting in 2008, Airbus Defence and Space is now prime contractor for the Phase A studies of a European Transportation System called ARV (Advanced Re-entry Vehicle). Based on a stepwise approach, the new ARV space transportation system could be used for cargo freight to the ISS and back to Earth (first step), and eventually (second step) capable of flying crew. In both cases, the ARV will comprise a crucial re-entry module.