8 February 2011
News - Vehicles (Good)
Orbital Sciences Announces Prometheus
Four seats, no waiting. OK, a few years waiting...
by G B Leatherwood
Satellite and missile defense manufacturer Orbital Sciences is about slicing off a piece of that space tourism pie: Orbital announced, via Twitter, its second entry into the commercial crew and cargo delivery business with a private space plane called Prometheus.

Not the first or only tool in the Orbital Sciences kit, Prometheus will share the load with the OS Cygnus spacecraft to provide resupply to the ISS after the current US Space Shuttle program ends later this year. In fact, Orbital was awarded US$1.9 billion by a Commercial Orbital Transportation Services ( COTS) program contract in late 2008

However, the Prometheus craft will be dedicated to carrying passengers to the International Space Station ( ISS). According to PlaneNews, Cygnus, with it Taurus 2 rockets, will only provide cargo deliveries.

Prometheus will consist of what the company calls a “blended lifting body,” which looks like a smaller space shuttle and will be launched atop a standard expendable rocket. Orbital intends for the ship will carry humans to the International Space Station and return to Earth for a landing at a runway. As proposed, the vehicle will carry four astronauts initially, but could be expanded to six.

Prometheus, a Titan in Greek mythology was a crafty and mischievous rival of Zeus and is credited with stealing fire from Zeus and giving it to humans. Zeus, of course, retaliated by chaining Prometheus to a boulder, where his liver was eaten daily by an eagle, only to be repaired during the night so the agony could start all over again. Feeling sorry for poor Prommy, the Greek hero Heracles (Hercules) killed the eagle with an arrow and broke the chains, setting him free to continue his wily ways.

Orbital has yet to conduct its required demonstration flight of the Cygnus craft, now scheduled for later in 2011, and no schedule was announced for Prometheus. One can only hope that the new venture fares better than its namesake and is released from its chains of gravity without being eaten by eagles.
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G B Leatherwood 8 February 2011
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