This is ESA's video unveiling of its Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle, a test-bed for a next-generation reentry pod. The IXV is due to rocket aloft on Europe's new small Vega launcher in 2012 and test out a range of systems for a "proper" future vehicle. Ditching the simplicity and limitations of the now old-fashioned conical-pod-with-heat-shield design, it's a lifting-body shape with a thermal protection system somewhat like the Shuttle's. The wingless pod is steered by aerodynamic body flaps with reaction jets as backup and for orbital maneuvers, and when it's low and slow enough it'll pop a 'chute and plop into the Pacific. And it'll do it all autonomously. Clever stuff. [ESA via Slashdot]
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I'm going to miss the shuttle. Orion is so fugly, for $15 bill you'd think they'd sex it up a bit, paint some flames on the side, or something... ...but nice going ESA, I haven't seen renders that cool since '94.