Hopper was a proposed European Space Agency orbital and reusable launch vehicle. The shuttle prototype spaceplane was one of several proposals for a European reusable launch vehicle (RLV) planned to cheaply ferry satellites into orbit by 2015. The 'Phoenix' was a German-European project for a one-seventh scale model of the Hopper concept vehicle.
The suborbital Hopper was a FESTIP (Future European Space Transportation Investigations Programme) system study design selected for further analysis during Future Launchers Preparatory Programme. It would be composed of a single stage reusable vehicle which would not reach orbital velocity. This vehicle was to be launched on a 4 km magnetic horizontal track which would accelerate it to launch speed. At a height of 130 km, the vehicle would fire an expendable rocket powered upper stage which would reach orbital speed and place its satellite payload into orbit. Finally, the vehicle would then glide down to an island in the Atlantic Ocean and be taken back to French Guiana by ship. An EADS spokesperson stated that a reusable launch vehicle like Hopper could halve the cost of sending a satellite into orbit, which now stands at $15,000 USD per kilogram of payload.
EADS was responsible for the project management and for the entire software equipment of the system. Other partner companies were also involved in the development. The European Space Agency (ESA) and EADS hoped to complete development of Hopper between 2015 and 2020. After the first glide test on May 2004, no updates were forthcoming and eventually the project was canceled.
The Phoenix RLV prototype was 6.9 meters long (23 ft), had a weight of 1,200 kilograms (2,640 lb), and a wingspan of 3.9 meters (13 ft). The prototype, at one sixth the size of the planned vehicle, was last in the alpha stage of development at Bremen labs of EADS.
On Saturday 8 May 2004, the prototype was dropped from 2.4 kilometers (8,000 ft) by a helicopter and landed precisely and without incident after a GPS-guided 90 second glide. The test was conducted at the North European Aerospace Test range in Kiruna, 1,240 km (770 mi) north of Stockholm, Sweden. The primary aim of the test was to assess the glider potential of the craft. No subsequent tests were reported.
The final version of the vehicle was expected to be able to support the reentry forces, generated heat, and be able to glide from an altitude of 129 kilometers (80 mi).