Sierra Nevada Corp. officials are confident the company’s new Dream Chaser spacecraft will be completed in time to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) for the first time in 2021.
The primary vehicle structure for the Dream Chaser arrived at SNC’s Louisville, Colorado, facility in October 2019 and has been in full scale production since then, said Steve Lindsey, senior vice president of strategy for SNC’s Space Systems business area, in a Jan. 9 call with reporters.
Once production is complete, the company plans to ship Dream Chaser to Plum Brook Station, a remote testing facility for the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, he added. There, it will undergo “extensive” environmental testing before being shipped down to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for its first flight to the ISS.
“Our first test mission is designed to go to the space station, deliver cargo and return cargo back,” he said.
The spacecraft, in development since 2004, will be used to transport more than 12,000 pounds of cargo to the ISS across six missions under the Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS 2) contract awarded by NASA in 2016.
Lindsey said a number of Dream Chaser-related hardware deliveries are expected this year, to include the spacecraft’s wings and the “Shooting Star” cargo module, a 15-foot attachment for the Dream Chaser that will provide extra payload storage and help facilitate cargo disposal upon reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.
The Shooting Star is a “critical part” of SNC’s contract with NASA, Lindsey said. The company delivered the test mockup to the Kennedy Space Center for testing this past November, he noted.
“Since all of our CRS 2 cargo missions are planned to land at the shuttle landing center at Kennedy, it’s important to unveil Shooting Star there and do some tests there where we would do the processing of the vehicle in between flights,” he said.
Sierra Nevada plans to pitch the cargo module to other NASA procurement programs, Lindsey said. “We tend to think of it as something that meets NASA’s ISS cargo requirements, but the truth is it’s a module attached to Dream Chaser that can be modified to do just about anything you might want it to do,” such as providing extra power, propulsion or communications capabilities, he added.
The agency awarded CRS-2 contracts to SNC, Space X and then-Orbital ATK, now
Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems [NOC], to deliver cargo through 2024. Commercial Resupply Services 1 (CRS-1) contracts were awarded beginning in 2008 to Orbital ATK and Space X for 31 missions through 2020. Space X began cargo resupply flights to the International Space Station in 2012, with Orbital ATK following with a first mission in 2014, per NASA.
SNC selected United Launch Alliance (ULA) this past August as the launch provider for Dream Chaser for a minimum six missions to the ISS (Defense Daily, Aug. 14, 2019). The contract is primarily for the alliance’s forthcoming Vulcan Centaur rocket as the primary vehicle, with the time-tested Atlas V included as a backup. ULA is a joint venture formed by Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Boeing [BA].