Work on SpaceFish has already been started. The basic idea of the SpaceFish is a re-entry vehicle with a an extended duration of the atmospheric flight and therefore a reduced rate of dissipated kinetic energy and a minimized deceleration compared to the Space Shuttle. During the long re-entry flight of SpaceFish the phases with high heat flux are characterized by low mechanical loads and the phases with higher mechanical loads are characterized by low heat fluxes.
Animation created by ESA
SpaceFish will be controlled like a conventional airplane along the flight path by deflecting the rudder in the tail, and when necessary with control thrusters. The last part of the flight including the total energy management will be tested within the Bexus Program in October 2009.
The experiment will consist on attaching the aircraft to the BEXUS balloon to reach a deployment altitude in the order of 15Km. Once the deployment altitude is reached SpaceFish will be released from the balloon and fly autonomously back to the home base of Esrange. During the flight the good gliding capabilities of SpaceFish will be demonstrated, some basic maneuvers will be flown in order to gather information of the aircraft behavior, and a series of approach and landing maneuvers over the ground will be realized.