The European Space Agency's (ESA) Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) will be launched on Wednesday (11 February) for a suborbital flight to test technologies and critical systems for Europe's future automated re-entry systems.

All going to plan, the flight will lift off from Kourou in French Guiana at 13:00 GMT (14:00 CET) and after separation from the Vega rocket at about 340km altitude, 18 minutes into its flight, will coast to a maximum height of about 420km.

On re-entry, it will record data from a large number of conventional and advanced sensors.

ESA says the entry speed of 27,000km/h creates the same conditions as those for a vehicle returning from low orbit.

The IXV will navigate through the atmosphere within its re-entry corridor before descending, slowed by a multistage parachute, for splashdown into the Pacific Ocean some 100 minutes after lift-off.

During its brief mission, ESA experts on three continents and the high seas will work in close cooperation, monitoring the IXV space-plane's free flight, re-entry and splashdown in the Pacific.

All data collected during the flight will help guide the design of future spacecraft bound to return to Earth.

ESA says the spacecraft will fly fully autonomously, and will be closely monitored from its Mission Control Centre in Turin, Italy. Signals from the spacecraft will be tracked by two ground stations in Africa and by an antenna on the recovery ship, Nos Aries.

Nos Aries has been sailing to the expected recovery point since mid-January and the team of mission engineers onboard will support IXV's descent through the atmosphere and will recover it after its splashdown.