Rendering of Prometheus in orbit
Rendering of Prometheus in orbit

Prometheus was a proposed crewed vertical-takeoff, horizontal-landing (VTHL) lifting body spaceplane concept put forward by Orbital Sciences Corporation in late 2010 as part of the second phase of NASA's Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program.[1][2][full citation needed]


The Prometheus design was based on an earlier NASA design, the HL-20 Personnel Launch System.[citation needed] Prometheus also included other NASA-funded design improvements to HL-20 by Orbital Sciences that were done some years ago as part of NASA's Orbital Space Plane program.[1] Whereas the HL-20 was a pure lifting body,[citation needed] the Prometheus design was for a Blended Lifting Body (BLB).[1] This design combines volumetric efficiency with superior aerodynamic qualities.[3] Prometheus could have initially carried four astronauts to the International Space Station or future commercial space stations but further development could have increased the seating capacity to six.[4] The baselined launch vehicle was the Atlas V, but the design could have accommodated other launch vehicles. The cost of the development of the Prometheus spacecraft and of upgrading the Atlas V would be between $3.5 and $4 billion.[5]

Commercial Crew Development program

The Vertical Takeoff, Horizontal Landing (VTHL) vehicle would be launched on a human-rated Atlas V rocket but would land on a runway.[6] The initial design would carry a crew of four, but it could carry up to six people or a combination of crew and cargo. In addition to Orbital Sciences, the consortium included Northrop Grumman that would have built the spaceplane and the United Launch Alliance that would have provided the launch vehicle.[7] Virgin Galactic also confirmed it would be teaming with Orbital on the Orbital CCDev 2 project.[8] After failing to be selected for a CCDev phase 2 award by NASA, Orbital announced in April 2011 it would likely wind down its efforts to develop a commercial crew vehicle.[9]

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Orbital Submits Proposal for NASA's Commercial Crew Development Program". Press Release. Orbital Sciences Corporation. 2010-12-14. Retrieved 2011-02-06.
  2. ^ "The Shape of Things to Come - Orbital's Prometheus Space Plane Ready for NASA's Commercial Crew Development Initiative" (PDF).
  3. ^ Leo, Ryan D. (2004-05-15). "Evolution of a Blended Lifting Body for the Orbital Space Plane". no. 3326. Society of Allied Weight Engineers. Retrieved 2011-02-28. issues of volumetric efficiency, high L/D for cross range, low wing loading for reduced landing speed, and passive stability for all abort conditions were addressed. ... As the optimization process continued, the HL-20 initial reference shape eventually evolved into the Blended Lifting Body (BLB). The BLB combines volumetric efficiency with superior aerodynamic qualities and was designed to launch vertically and land horizontally.
  4. ^ Wall, Mike (2011-02-09). "Proposed Private Space Plane Gets Fiery Name: Prometheus". Retrieved 16 August 2011.
  5. ^ Businesses Take Flight, With Help From NASA, New York Times, 2011-1-31, accessed 2011-02-28
  6. ^ Orbital Proposes Spaceplan for Astronauts, Wall Street Journal, December 14, 2010, accessed December 15, 2010.
  7. ^ Jumping into the New Space Race, Orbital Sciences Unveils Mini-Shuttle Spaceplane Design, Popular Science, 2010-12-16, accessed 2010-12-18. "Orbital Sciences isn't the kind of independent, private, "new space" enterprise as, say, SpaceX. It's a consortium of defense and aviation heavy-hitters: Northrop would build the plane, and the rockets would be provided by United Launch Alliance (read: Boeing and Lockheed)."
  8. ^ Virgin joins forces with two companies on CCDev, NewSpace Journal, 2010-12-16, accessed 2010-12-18.
  9. ^ "Orbital may wind down its commercial crew effort". NewSpace Journal. 2011-04-22. Retrieved 2011-04-25. CEO Dave Thompson said ... "I don't, at this time, anticipate that we'll continue to pursue our own project in that race. We'll watch it and if an opportunity develops we may reconsider. But at this point, I would not anticipate a lot of activity on our part in the commercial crew market."