Sweet Home Alabama: Dream Chaser Aims for Huntsville Landings

Sweet Home Alabama! Destination Huntsville Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation

Sweet Home Alabama!
Destination Huntsville
Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation

The “Rocket City” may be taking a big step in seeing some of its storied history coming home, literally, in the form of a descending Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser space plane.

Yesterday, officials in Huntsville, Al held an industry session to promote Dream Chaser landings in the city that helped launch America into the space age.

In what may come as a surprise to those who assumed that Dream Chaser would make its operational orbital landings on the Shuttle Landing Strip at the Kennedy Space Center, Sierra Nevada officials stated that Huntsville International Airport is the “only city” where they are planning to land for the time being.

From the article in AL.com:

“There was a leap of faith on the Huntsville side that we would be a company that could get this vehicle built and start servicing the space station…,” Sierra Nevada Vice President John Roth said Thursday. “Yes, we have been approached by other airports for ventures. We’re not moving forward at this time with any of those. Right now, Huntsville is the only community we’re moving forward with a (landing) license on.”

Earning the landing license depends on overcoming a couple of hurdles including certifying a flight path, but there are no clear showstoppers. While Huntsville might not seem the most obvious place for SNC’s spacecraft to land following its six minimum guaranteed resupply missions to the International Space Station under the CRS-2 contract, it does sense for more than the obvious political reasons.

Sometimes lost in the publicity which accompanies U.S. launches to ISS which take place from Florida and Virginia, and the ever present role of the Johnson Space Center in managing the Station, is the fact its Payload Operations Center is located in Huntsville, at the Marshall Space Flight Center.

To the extent that ISS is all about research in orbit, Huntsville’s POC is the American nerve center of that effort, coordinating and overseeing the diverse array of experiments which are going on at any given time.

If Dream Chaser does makes its way over the skies of the Tennessee Valley, it would not be the first time an orbiter landed at Huntsville, although it would be the first to do so from space (and without the aid of a 747).

In 1978, the Space Shuttle Enterprise arrived at the Marshall Space Flight Center for testing.

Enterprise in Huntsville Credit: NASA

Enterprise in Huntsville
Credit: NASA


Enterprise being loaded on dynamic test stand Credit: NASA

Enterprise being loaded on dynamic test stand
Credit: NASA

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5 Comments on "Sweet Home Alabama: Dream Chaser Aims for Huntsville Landings"

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  1. PK Sink says:

    Gee…coming in from orbit, and landing in an area of almost half a million people. What could possibly go wrong?

    • Zed_Weasel says:

      A lot less than any large commercial jetliner at takeoff with full fuel load at any airport.

      • PK Sink says:

        I hope that you’re right. I must admit that it would make a spectacular sight.

  2. Dave Huntsman says:

    Well, I’ve been to the MSFC POCC; and yes, it’s there, it’s no more a reason to land in Huntsville than the fact that ISS MCC is in Houston is a reason to land in Houston. I still believe the real reasoning (whatever the ‘official’ reason is!) is political. No one in the space community in this country wants to piss off Shelby, because he controls – literally – NASA’s budget, and has been shown in recent months, indirectly can manipulate space policy on the military side through political corruption and hardball as well. By focusing on Huntsville – at least for now – they guarantee His Protection, and a direct line to Him. Ugly, unfortunate, and, I think, true.

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