The European Space Agency has been working on a new re-entry vehicle, but unlike NASA is not interested in a reusable shuttle-like approach. They’re planning on having an “expendable” re-entry vehicle, and although they probably could have chosen their words better, it makes a lot of sense to have parts that can be completely expended during the unbelievably dangerous re-entry process. It’s going to use little paddles on its rear to stay steady, kind of like steering an innertube down a river by dragging your toes in the water (but hotter).
Autoplaying video of the proposed vehicle after the fold.
The coalition of European countries involved may have some issues of nationalism, however; what if the first astronauts (or Astreoknaughts, as they’ll probably call them) be all French and smuggle a flag onto Neptune or what have you and claim it for le nouveau roi Louis XX. Not likely, but a great start for a really bad sci-fi book.