Orbital Sciences Corp. Proposes “Blended Lifting Body” for NASA Commercial Crew

Orbital Sciences Corporation's blended lifting body vehicle. (Credit: OSC)


Orbital Sciences Corporation (NYSE: ORB) today announced that it has submitted a proposal to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in response to the Commercial Crew Development-2 contract solicitation. The company also provided several top-level details of its proposal for providing safe and affordable transportation services to and from the International Space Station (ISS) and for commercial activities in Earth orbit. Orbital’s concept includes the following details:

  • A “blended lifting body” vehicle that will launch atop an expendable launch vehicle and return to Earth with a conventional runway landing. This design derives from studies performed by Orbital for NASA under the Orbital Space Plane program between 2000 and 2003.
  • The vehicle would seat four astronauts, providing a cost-effective solution for NASA’s astronaut transportation needs, as well as enabling future commercial applications.
  • The proposal baselines using a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, but is flexible enough to accommodate other launch vehicle options.

Orbital also announced that it will lead a team of world-class suppliers that will contribute major elements of the system. Orbital’s major suppliers include:

  • Thales Alenia Space, which is responsible for the vehicle’s pressurized crew compartment
  • Northrop Grumman, which is the lead airframe structures designer
  • Honeywell and Draper Laboratory, which together are responsible for the human-rated avionics
  • United Launch Alliance, which is responsible for the vehicle’s baseline launch vehicle.

“We have submitted to NASA a well-considered commercial solution for astronaut transportation to and from the ISS that is safe, affordable and timely,” said Mr. Frank Culbertson, a former NASA astronaut and Orbital’s Senior Vice President for Human Spaceflight Systems. “Our team is looking forward to sharing our ideas with NASA in greater detail and discussing how they can best be applied to helping the United States continue to access the ISS in the safest and most cost-effective manner possible, as well as supporting commercial ventures that are seeking access to space.”

Orbital Sciences Corporation's commercial crew vehicle docks at the International Space Station. (Credit: OSC)

Orbital is already under contract with NASA to provide unmanned cargo logistics services to the ISS under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program using a commercial system consisting of the company’s Taurus® II medium-class space launch vehicle, its Cygnus™ cargo logistics spacecraft and a ground-based command and control systems. Orbital is slated to carry out a demonstration flight of the combined system in 2011, followed by operational cargo delivery services beginning in early 2012.

Editor’s Note: Interesting. No mention of Virgin Galactic despite earlier press reports. Also note that Northrop Grumman is the lead on airframe. This company owns Scaled Composites, which is building the WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo suborbital system.