Orbital Sciences: The Challenge of Breaking Away from Government Contracts as a Source of Revenue Flow

  • Howard E. McCurdy
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Science and Technology book series (PSHST)


Founded in 1982 as an alternative to conventional aerospace contracting, Orbital Sciences grew into a distinguishable commercial space undertaking with over $700 million in annual revenues and only one-third of its work drawn from the U.S. government. McCurdy explains how rough times eventually forced the company to return to government awards. Orbital won a NASA award to deliver cargo to the International Space Station but failed to qualify for the prized crew transport awards. Three decades after its founding, Orbital Sciences disappeared, absorbed into a conventional aerospace firm doing most of its work under contract to the U.S. government. The Orbital story demonstrates how difficult the maintenance of commercial independence can be even for an established new space firm.


Lifting-body spacecraft NASA commercial cargo transportation Commercial space policy Government contracting Sierra Nevada Corporation 

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Howard E. McCurdy
    • 1
  1. 1.American UniversityWashington, DCUSA

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