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The competition heats up: Europe today successfully launched and landed its Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV) space plane.
As of 9 pm (Eastern) Wednesday the recovery ship was still “hurrying” to reach the ship, which was being held afloat with “balloons.” Update: The spacecraft has been retrieved.
This prototype is not full scale. It is only about 16 feet long, and was built as a testbed. Whether Europe follows up with a full scale version remains completely unknown. I am skeptical, as this program reminds me of many deadend NASA experimental programs like it, used to try out cool engineering technologies as well as provide pork to Congressional districts without any plans to proceed to the real thing. In the case of IXV, the Italians got most of the pork.