Orbital Sciences has joined the Lockheed Martin-led team competing to develop NASA's Orbital Space Plane (OSP). Orbital's existing partner, Northrop Grumman, joined Lockheed Martin's team last month. The three companies are now set to compete against Boeing, NASA's incumbent human spaceflight prime contractor.

Orbital had planned to join both teams, but says "plans change". Lockheed Martin hopes to take advantage of the company's work on NASA's demonstration for advanced rendezvous technology (DART). "OSP will be flown autonomously, and the USA does not have an autonomous rendezvous and proximity operations capability," says Michael Coats, Lockheed Martin vice-president reusable space transportation systems. The DART spacecraft will be launched next year by the company's Pegasus booster.

Orbital's responsibilities on the Lockheed Martin OSP team will include rendezvous, docking and integration with the International Space Station (ISS). NASA recently accelerated the programme by two years to provide an ISS crew rescue capability by 2008 and a two-way crew transfer capability by 2012 or earlier. Coats says Northrop Grumman will provide the team with vehicle management systems capability developed for its unmanned air vehicles, and multicrew experience from its B-2 bomber.

NASA has completed the system requirements review for the OSP, and hopes to issue a draft request for proposals for full-scale development at the end of this month, followed by the final RFP in late November.

Source: Flight International