Strictly speaking there's also
VTOHL (Vertical Take-Off, Horizontal Landing), of which the most obvious example is the Space Shuttle. However, it's not a good design as it has a number of fundamental problems.
The key difficulty of
SSTO design is to build a light vehicle, and so the structure must be as efficient as possible. In a
VTOL vehicle the loads are basically along the vehicle from bottom to top. In a
HTOL vehicle they're mainly across the vehicle like an aeroplane. But a
VTOHL has to support stresses both along and across the vehicle - so it's heavier. Secondly, once a
VTOHL vehicle has taken off, there's a period of time during which it can't easily recover from a failure. This is contrary to the fundamental idea of aviation safety, namely the need for "continuous intact abort". At any given moment time it must be possible to save the vehicle and passengers in the event of an accident or systems failure. The Challenger disaster was a vivid demonstration of this problem of VTOHLs, and they're unlikely ever to be satisfactory for transporting people or to be able to pass certification for passenger-carrying. But convince us if you can!
Another problem with
VTOHL is that while the wings help the vehicle on re-entry, they are effectively dead weight on the way up. In an
HTOL, wings allow you to use aerodynamic lift at take-off, so you don't need to use so much thrust and propellant -- the thrust of a
VTOL rocket's engines is typically 1.4 times its mass, while the thrust of an airliners' engines is only about 1/4 of it's mass - big saving!. So to build wings and just carry them vertically to orbit is shooting yourself in the foot! Finally, so much fuel is needed just to get up that it's very hard to keep any in reserve for the return trip, resulting in an unpowered high-speed landing. Airliners can rev their engines at any time and "go round again" if there's a problem before landing - but the space shuttle would be destroyed. Even Chuck Yeager didn't like doing "dead-stick" landings in a fighter plane, because of this risk.
4 - The Rest of the Field
In addition to the above, there have also been proposals for two stage vertical launch vehicles, and even a single-stage-to-orbit space station that launches itself!
In the Blue Corner...
Now, there are dedicated, professional, convincing (even noisy!) supporters of both
VTOL approaches, and both are certainly possible - in the right configurations. Rather than take sides, Space Future would like to see both getting funded and being built and put into operation. The competition between them will be just great to watch, and it'll help to improve the designs, drive their costs down, and speed things along nicely!
The War's Over
Unfortunately the space industry suffers from the problem of having been a government activity for decades during the "cold war". As a result there are numerous research establishments with expensive equipment in many countries which these institutions want to use, because it's embarrassing to them to admit they're a waste. So they're always coming up with ways of spending money on anything except passenger launch vehicles.
Projects working on scramjet (supersonic combustion ramjet) engines are a good example of this. They sound great, taking oxygen from the air instead of carrying it with you -- but they're essentially pointless technology, at least for civilian use. They'll certainly never be used in any commercial vehicle. Think about it - Supersonic Combustion Ramjet means that it can't operate below supersonic speeds. So it needs another engine to take off with. And it's an air-breathing engine, so it can't operate in space either! So you need rockets on board. So you need 3 different propulsion systems -- heavy and complicated!
Worse, experiments have shown that while originally planned to go to Mach 26 or Mach 20, scramjets can't work much above about Mach 11. And to use them a launch vehicle has to cruise in the atmosphere at that speed -- rather like standing in front of a welding torch -- instead of just getting out of the atmosphere as quick as possible. But there are expensive hypersonic wind-tunnels which "have to be used", and so instead of trying to make a launch vehicle that might actually make money (what a thought!), government institutions keep thinking up plans why they should continue this work instead.
Well, if these organizations want to waste taxpayers' money, what's new? "Who cares?" you might ask. What must not be allowed is for these organizations to block the start of the true space age by justifing projects like this with the ludicrous claim that "This is the way to open the space frontier" - it isn't. The way to open the space frontier is to build passenger vehicles with existing technology and to start passenger services. It's as simple as that.
Keep it Simple, Stupid
Henry Ford didn't wait for the V-8 engine to be developed before he started selling cars! He made them with the engines he could make at the time, and he got started! And then with the money he earned he improved his products step by step. It's going to be the same with space travel. It's going to start with what's available - not with what might be developed decades from now, if enough billions of taxpayers' money is used (and probably not even then, as X-33 has ably demonstrated).
And so that means making and operating
SSTO vehicles, and
HTOL vehicles. So we're looking forward to seeing vigorous competition between different models of these different vehicles, and to seeing which companies and which countries play a significant role in humans' approaching space future - and to seeing which ones keep their heads in the sand, and their people in the dark, until the race is lost!