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Europe has performed an important early test of its future IXV space vehicle, dropping the scale-model reentry capsule from 3,000 meters to test its flight characteristics.

Next year, the fully space-ready IXV will be launched atop Europe's new launch rocket, the Vega, to 420 km above the earth and then will propel itself back through the atmosphere.

What makes the IXV interesting is that, unlike a simple conical capsule like those being developed in the United States for manned space flight, the complex shape can actually maneuver as it reenters the air after being in space, and this means it can land much more precisely. Ultimately the EU wants to take data from the IXV and use it to create its own mini space shuttle vehicle called Pride, which is a little like the mysterious U.S. military X-37B, destined to fly in 2018.