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Europe’s space shuttle test succeeds

An unmanned prototype for the European space shuttle glides to a successful landing on a Swedish test strip after being dropped from more than a mile up.
EADS Phoenix Rollversuch Runway
Europe's Phoenix space shuttle prototype, shown here during an earlier taxi test, glided to a landing at the North European Test Range in Sweden.Ingo Wagner / EADS
/ Source: The Associated Press

An unmanned prototype for the European space shuttle glided to a successful landing Saturday after being dropped from an altitude of 7,900 feet (2,400 meters), a project spokeswoman said.

The EADS Phoenix, a German-designed prototype of the future European Shuttle, was dropped by a helicopter at 9:45 a.m. local time.

Guided by GPS satellites, the shuttle “landed perfectly” on the test runway after a 90-second flight, said Johanna Bergstroem-Roos, of the North European Aerospace Test Range in Kiruna, 770 miles (1,230 kilometers) north of the capital, Stockholm.

“Everyone here is ecstatic,” she said. “This gives us wind in our sails.”

The Phoenix shuttle, along with the Ariane 5 rocket, represents the European Space Agency’s hope for sending astronauts into space, but project managers concede a full-size version won’t be ready for more than a decade.

The test flight was originally planned for Friday but was postponed so technicians could finish analyzing data from an earlier test of the vehicle’s onboard computers this week.

The Phoenix shuttle is scheduled to be finished sometime between 2015 and 2020.

Bergstroem-Roos said the next step likely will be to drop the prototype from higher altitudes, with the help of a high-altitude balloon. The finished shuttle must be capable of gliding to land from an altitude of 80 miles (128 kilometers), she said.

The prototype is just under 23 feet (7 meters) long, weighs 2,640 pounds (1,200 kilograms) and has a wingspan of 13 feet (4 meters). It’s one-sixth the size of the actual planned vehicle.

EADS, or the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co., is the largest aerospace company in Europe and the second largest worldwide.