Sierra Nevada Corp. [SNC] has selected United Launch Alliance

’s (ULA) forthcoming launch vehicle to help deliver cargo to the International Space Station beginning in 2021.

SNC Chairwoman and President Eren Ozmen and CEO Fatih Ozmen announced Aug. 14 the company’s selection of ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket for the Dream Chaser spacecraft’s six NASA missions heading to the ISS beginning in late 2021.

A rendering of United Launch Alliance’s forthcoming Vulcan Centaur heavy-lift rocket, which is expected to be fielded in 2021. (Image: ULA)

The partnership was announced at a press conference at SNC’s Louisville, Colorado, location also attended by ULA’s president and CEO Tory Bruno. ULA is a joint launch venture between Boeing [BA] and Lockheed Martin [LMT].

“We are so proud and happy to select ULA as our launch provider,” Fatih Ozmen said. “We can’t wait to have the first successful mission.”

In development since 2004, SNC’s Dream Chaser will deliver more than 12,000 pounds of cargo to the ISS across its six NASA-led missions under the Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract awarded in 2016. Once operational, the spacecraft will serve as a reusable, multi-mission space utility vehicle capable of transportation services to and from low-Earth orbit and off a runway landing upon return to Earth.

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.

Bruno called the opportunity “a tremendous honor” in “a very competitive launch market.” The partnership is set for the Vulcan Centaur to launch the Dream Chaser into space for all six NASA missions, but ULA’s Atlas V launch vehicle is also being included as a backup rocket, he noted.

The Vulcan Centaur launch vehicle is currently in development in partnership with the U.S. Air Force (Defense Daily, Oct. 10, 2018). Bruno confirmed that Vulcan Centaur remains on track for its scheduled first flight in 2021, adding that every component included on the new rocket will be “feathered in” on Atlas flights between now and first Vulcan flight, with the exception of the first-stage engine, the BE-4 currently in development by Blue Origin.

“Everything but the first stage engine will have actually been flown several times” before the first Dream Chaser mission, he said.

Bruno also confirmed in an Aug. 12 press release that ULA submitted its proposal for the Vulcan Centaur to be considered for the Air Force’s Phase 1 Launch Services Procurement (LSP) program. On Monday, one of its competitors Blue Origin filed a pre-award protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) claiming unfair proposal requirements (Defense Daily, Aug. 12).

Eren Ozmen, SNC’s president and chairwoman, said five providers were involved in discussions to launch the Dream Chaser to include Space X and Blue Origin. But she noted ULA’s longstanding relationship with SNC and a competitive price offer gave the company “a pretty significant advantage.” Earlier Dream Chaser proposals for NASA’s CRS missions included the Atlas V as the launch vehicle.