Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) is setting its sights on delivering humans to the International Space Station (ISS) after NASA on Thursday awarded the company a contract for its Cargo Resupply Services-2 (CRS-2) program.

SNC and Dream Chaser in 2014 lost out on the original Commercial Crew contracts that were awarded to Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) and Boeing [BA]. Sierra Nevada Space Systems Corporate Vice President Mark Sirangelo told reporters Friday during a teleconference that NASA has an “on-ramp” to bring on additional vehicles for crew if they meet certain criteria. NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz confirmed this Friday.

Artist's illustration of Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser connected to ISS. Photo: Sierra Nevada.
Artist’s illustration of Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser connected to ISS. Photo: Sierra Nevada.

Sirangelo said by doing the autonomous cargo vehicle first Sierra Nevada will have highly developed software that will greatly enhance its ability to go back and snare a crew contract if the opportunity arises.

“We continue to have that on most of our minds,” Sirangelo said.

SNC Space Systems Senior Director of Programs Steve Lindsey said Sierra Nevada’s crewed Dream Chaser variant is alive and well as the crewed variant and cargo variant of Dream Chaser have 85 percent commonality. He said SNC modified the vehicle for cargo by pulling out unneeded subsystems.

“All of the things we do on the cargo system will lead to the crewed system,” Lindsey said. He added that the public can “count on” Sierra Nevada pursuing potential Commercial Crew contracts in the future.

Lindsey said Sierra Nevada is performing some maturation on the Dream Chaser crew variant and this will continue alongside the cargo effort. Sirangelo said CRS-2 does not require the cargo Dream Chaser variant to perform a flight test before its first mission.

Lindsey said one advantage Dream Chaser has is its ability to both berth and dock with ISS, allowing it to deliver larger payloads through berthing. Docking is when the space vehicle connects to ISS autonomously. Berthing requires an astronaut on ISS to use an arm to grapple the space vehicle and connect it to ISS. Lindsey said dual methods of connecting Dream Chaser to ISS also give NASA more mission options.

Sirangelo said though the company is unsure on actual mission dates he said the contract directed SNC to be ready to fly by the second half of 2019. The contract for six potential missions runs through 2024.

Sierra Nevada, Orbital ATK [OA] and SpaceX won CRS-2 contracts while Lockheed Martin [LMT] lost out (Defense Daily, Jan. 14).