Sierra Nevada, Lockheed Martin Join Forces on Dream Chaser

Sierra Nevada, Lockheed Martin Join Forces on Dream Chaser

Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) and Lockheed Martin announced today that they will work together on the Dream Chaser spacecraft SNC is building.  SNC is one of three companies receiving funding from NASA under the commercial crew program.

Dream Chaser looks like the space shuttle without the cargo bay.  SNC Vice President for Space Exploration Systems Jim Voss, a former astronaut who flew on both the space shuttle and Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft, commented at today’s press conference that in terms of crew space, the volume per person is the same as on the shuttle and “far, far bigger” than the Soyuz spacecraft now being used to takes crews back and forth to the International Space Station.  Dream Chaser will be able to accommodate seven crew members.  The space shuttle could accomodate as many as eight, though seven was a typical crew complement.  Soyuz can carry three people.   Dream Chaser can operate autonomously, so its volume can be filled with cargo, crew, or a combination.

Dream Chaser during a captive carry test May 2012.  Source:  Sierra Nevada

Lockheed Martin will work with SNC in building Dream Chaser’s composite structure, work that will be done at the Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans where space shuttle External Tanks once were built.  The company also will help SNC in meeting NASA’s certification requirements for Dream Chaser.  Lockheed Martin’s Jim Crocker, Space Systems Vice President and General Manager for Civil Space, explained his company’s interest in Dream Chaser at today’s press conference.  His company already is developing the Orion spacecraft for NASA’s program to send people beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO), which is a capsule.  Dream Chaser has wheels and wings, he said, and that is good for low Earth orbit operations, so there is a role for each. 

NASA funded “2 1/2” proposals under its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) program, meaning that two companies were fully funded and one received only half.  Sierra Nevada got the half.   SNC Corporate Vice President and head of its Space Systems division Mark Sirangelo stressed that while SNC is working with NASA in the CCiCAP program, Dream Chaser is being designed with a variety of potential customers in mind.   He also noted that Sierra Nevada is “privately owned by the people who are operating it .., with no outside investors and no debt,” allowing it to invest heavily in its own research and development.   The company has been working in the space business for 25 years with many companies and government agencies, he continued, including Lockheed Martin and NASA on projects like the Mars Curiosity rover.

Voss said that Dream Chaser will be sent to Dryden Flight Research Center in California in about two weeks to begin a series of drop tests from a helicopter to demonstrate its aerodynamics and autonomous landing capabilities.  The total number of tests could be as few as two or as many as five depending on results. 

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