Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Prometheus Space Plane In NASA Funding Competition

Officials at Orbital Sciences — a company in Dulles, Va., that builds and launches rockets and satellites for everything from television broadcasts to scientific research — say they are excited by the possibilities of commercial crew, but they are more cautious, (than others). Orbital, founded in 1982, was a survivor from the last boom-and-bust in commercial space, reports New York Times writer Kenneth Chang.

Its space plane design is a refinement of the (NASA Langley inspired) HL-20. Following in the pattern of tapping Greek mythology for the names of its spacecraft, Orbital calls its plane Prometheus. Orbital says development of Prometheus would cost $3.5 billion to $4 billion, which would include the cost of upgrading the Atlas V rocket and two test flights.

With enough financial support, David W. Thompson, chief executive of Orbital, is sure that his company can build and operate Prometheus. But he is less sure that his industry is at a tipping point for spaceflight to become much more common, driving down prices and opening up space to new businesses.

“I think it depends on what the demand curve really is,” Mr. Thompson told The New York Times. “I would say I’m highly skeptical.”

NASA is to award $200-million next month in a competition among commercial space launch firms to continue to development of space plane designs. Orbital Sciences is among those seeking funds to design a next-generation orbital space plane or mini-shuttle.

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