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A lifting body is a fixed-wing aircraft or spacecraft configuration in which the body itself produces lift. In contrast to a flying wing, which is a wing with minimal or no conventional fuselage, a lifting body can be thought of as a fuselage with little or no conventional wing. Whereas a flying wing seeks to maximize cruise efficiency at subsonic speeds by eliminating non-lifting surfaces, lifting bodies generally minimize the drag and structure of a wing for subsonic, supersonic and hypersonic flight, or spacecraft re-entry. All of these flight regimes pose challenges for proper flight safety.
Lifting bodies were a major area of research in the 1960s and 70s as a means to build a small and lightweight manned spacecraft. The US built a number of lifting body rocket planes to test the concept, as well as several rocket-launched re-entry vehicles that were tested over the Pacific. Interest waned as the US Air Force lost interest in the manned mission, and major development ended during the Space Shuttle design process when it became clear that the highly shaped fuselages made it difficult to fit fuel tankage.
Advanced spaceplane concepts in the 1990s and 2000s did use lifting-body designs. Examples include the HL-20 Personnel Launch System (1990) and the Prometheus spaceplane (2010). The Dream Chaser lifting-body spaceplane, an extension of HL-20 technology, was under development as of 2012 as one of three vehicles to potentially carry US crew to and from the International Space Station. In 2015 ESA Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle performed first ever successful reentry of a lifting body spacecraft.