For Sierra Nevada and Dream Chaser, the Chase Goes On

Image Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation

Sierra Nevada Corporation is keeping the “chase” in its Dream Chaser space plane. On March 17th, the company revealed its proposal for an unmanned version of Dream Chaser intended to compete for NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2, or CRS-2 contract.

Unlike the version put forward under NASA’s Commercial Crew program, which ultimately lost out to Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, the automated Dream Chaser features folding wings and would fit inside a 5.2 meter payload fairing, meaning it could launch on a variety of boosters.

This week the company has followed up with back to back announcements helping to bolster the case.

On Monday, came the following announcement, which if nothing else indicates that if NASA harbors any resentment towards SNC over its Commercial Crew procurement challenge, the agency is not letting it getting in the way of fostering further development.

On Monday:

SPARKS, Nev. (March 23, 2015) – Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) is pleased to announce it has amended its current Space Act Agreement (SAA), adding a significant development milestone to the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) partnership with NASA. The amendment, which extends the period of performance through March 2016, introduces unfunded Milestone 41, Design Analysis Cycle-6 Closeout Review – demonstrating the advancement of the Dream Chaser® Space System design from a Preliminary Design Review (PDR) level of maturity toward a Critical Design Review (CDR) level.

“We are eager to continue our work with NASA on development of the Dream Chaser Space System and appreciate NASA’s continued support of our program,” said Mark N. Sirangelo, corporate vice president, SNC’s Space Systems. “Agreeing to extend the SAA is recognition by NASA of the unique value of the Dream Chaser lifting-body vehicle. As the only runway-landing, piloted space vehicle in development, Dream Chaser provides the opportunity to preserve the U.S. legacy of 30 years of space shuttle and lifting body experience. The continued agreement and addition of the Closeout Review milestone ensures the entire Dream Chaser Space System continues its path forward to CDR maturation.”

End Release

In conjunction with the new milestone and amended NASA Space Act Agreement, SNC is attempting to drive home the advantages of Dream Chaser’s airport landing capability. And by this, they mean home literally, as in Houston, home of the Johnson Space Center, which happens to be U.S. headquarters for the International Space Station.

On Tuesday:

SPARKS, Nev. (March 24, 2015) – Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) Space Systems and the Houston Airport System (HAS) announce a new follow-on agreement to utilize Ellington Airport’s Spaceport as a future landing site for SNC’s Uncrewed Dream Chaser® spacecraft – SNC’s solution for NASA’s Cargo Resupply needs and other critical space operations.

“Entering into this new agreement with HAS will lead to enabling all variants of the Dream Chaser spacecraft to land in Houston, offering the ability to return cargo and science to Houston directly from space,” said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s Space Systems. “Through this agreement, we want to promote broad awareness of the importance of utilizing low-Earth orbit as a source of research, science and the expansion of space flight that are critical to Houston’s ongoing position as a ‘Space City.’ Houston has earned its place at the forefront of space exploration with such institutes as NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Rice Space University, the Texas Medical Center, the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and many other organizations.”

The objectives of this new agreement include exploring the applications and opportunities between HAS and SNC utilizing the Uncrewed Dream Chaser spacecraft to serve the needs of government, science, research, consumer and commercial enterprise while also building awareness of the positive economic impact of the Ellington Airport/Spaceport to the state of Texas. The new agreement is in anticipation of HAS receiving its spaceport license approval for Ellington Airport.

“The Houston Airport System is pleased to continue working with Sierra Nevada Corporation as a landing site for their Dream Chaser spacecraft,” said Arturo Machuca, general manager, Ellington Airport. “As we move into the final phase of receiving our spaceport license it is important that HAS work with private industry to ensure the sustainability of the Houston Spaceport. The Dream Chaser spacecraft, with its unique horizontal runway landing capability, low-g entry and use of non-toxic propulsion, makes it an ideal test bed for biomedical, pharmaceutical, cellular and genetic research payloads. Houston, a leader in space-based biomedical research, is eager to work with SNC to sustain and advance these research opportunities in low-Earth orbit, then gently return them directly to Houston for immediate unloading.”

Note: While the second announcement is conditioned upon Ellington Airport receiving spaceport status, and might at first seem rather innocuous, it could be an important factor in SNC’s odds of finally winning a place for its space plane. Houston and JSC have been less than thrilled at what some have seen as a diminished role in a future dominated by NASA’s Space Launch System mega rocket.  The idea of a mini-shuttle flying back to the city which is still smarting over not getting one of the three retired Space Shuttles, or even the test orbiter Enterprise sitting aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid in New York, could be rather appealing.



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