Sierra Nevada CCtCAP Loss Means Layoffs, But Dream Chaser Will Continue

Sierra Nevada CCtCAP Loss Means Layoffs, But Dream Chaser Will Continue

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC’s) Space Systems division laid off about 10 percent of its Dream Chaser workforce after losing NASA’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contract last week, but is not abandoning the program.

The Denver Post reported yesterday that Mark Sirangelo, Corporate Vice President of SNC Space Systems, confirmed that 90 employees were laid off from the Dream Chaser program, representing about 9.4 percent of its workforce.  The newspaper added that Sirangelo said the Dream Chaser program “will continue and Space Systems intends to bid on upcoming NASA contracts.”  SNC Space Systems is based in Louisville, CO, just outside Denver.

NASA announced on September 16 that Boeing and SpaceX were the two winners of CCtCAP contracts.  The agency declines to say what other companies bid for the contract until it has debriefed those who lost, but it was widely expected that Sierra Nevada was one of them.  It is already a partner with NASA on the commercial crew program as one of three companies (along with Boeing and SpaceX) funded in the current phase — Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP).

In May, NASA and Sierra Nevada agreed to extend their existing CCiCAP agreement to March 2015, so the company will continue to be a NASA partner until then.  The CCiCAP awards were made in 2012.  At that time, NASA chose “2 1/2” companies to support:  Boeing and SpaceX were the “2” that received the full amount they requested, while Sierra Nevada was the “1/2,” receiving half its request.  

The commercial crew program is a public-private partnership with the goal of developing a U.S. capability to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS).  The United States has not been able to launch people into space since the space shuttle program was terminated in 2011.  NASA and the private sector share the development costs and NASA guarantees a market, albeit limited, for the resulting services.  

How many companies NASA should support has been a matter of much debate.  NASA insists that it wants at least two competitors to keep prices down in the long term, while Congress has been reluctant to provide the funded needed to support more than one company during the development process.  The decision to fund 2 1/2 companies during the CCiCAP phase was the result of an agreement between NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and the chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA).  NASA’s choice of two companies for the CCtCAP phase reflects its position but is, of course, subject to congressional approval.

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