Rob Coppinger, SPACE.com Contributor
A European-built robot space plane could be soaring in orbit before the end of the decade if the program to develop it gains funding approval next month.
The Innovative Space Vehicle (ISV) would be Europe’s civilian equivalent of the U.S. Air Force’s unmanned X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, a robotic miniature space shuttle that has flown on two missions since 2010. The unmanned space plane would be much smaller than the Air Force vehicle, however.
Its fate rests with the European Space Agency’s ministers, who are scheduled to meet Nov. 20-21 in Italy. The ESA ministerial meeting is conducted every three years to decide programs and funding for the period until the next meeting. PRIDE (the Program for Reusable In-orbit Demonstrator in Europe) will be seeking funding there for the ISV, which would be a follow-up to its Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (or IXV), currently being built after months of delays.