Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) Space Systems division announced that it has hired Lockheed Martin (News - Alert) for two tasks toward building its Dream Chaser manned spacecraft. Lockheed Martin will be an exclusive partner to SNC on NASA’s Certification Products Contract (CPC (News - Alert)) and has been competitively selected to build the composite structure for a launch-worthy Dream Chaser.
NASA’s CPC is the process the agency is using to certify commercial vehicles and systems for manned spaceflight. “The CPC contract offers the Dream Chaser team the opportunity for a more robust technical interchange with NASA as we work to develop a safe, reliable orbital crew transportation system,” said SNC corporate vice president Mark Sirangelo.
SNC was awarded $10 million in Phase 1 of the program to start the process with Dream Chaser. Lockheed Martin has extensive experience working with NASA on human spaceflight safety through the lengthy process of building the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) for operations beyond earth orbit.
Lockheed Martin will also build the composite structure for the Dream Chaser test vehicle, another area where Lockheed Martin is no stranger. The aerospace company builds the F-22 and F-35 composite aircraft for the U.S. military. Construction will take place at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, where Lockheed Martin built more 135 external fuel tanks for the Space Shuttle program. Terms of the build contract were not announced, but SNC emphasized that it was a competitive bid with a number of participants.
Dream Chaser is designed to take seven people into low earth orbit and be operated both with a pilot and remotely. It will be vertically launched into orbit on an Atlas V rocket and glide back to earth like the Space Shuttle, landing on a regular runway. Since it isn’t a capsule, Dream Chaser would provide a much smoother re-entry ride of about 1G, as compared to three or more Gs for a “ballistic” capsule return to earth.
Tweets from press conference observers said SNC is looking at an unmanned orbital flight test in 2016 with a manned flight to follow. SNC expects to get anywhere from 25 to 35 flights per airframe, with the potential for more as they gain flight experience. Sirangelo said that the company was looking at a number of markets and applications for Dream Chaser if NASA doesn’t move forward with them on a contract to fly a crew to the International Space Station (ISS), including satellite servicing and free-flyer research missions.
NASA has funded Dream Chaser up through a critical design review, but not offered cash for a series of test flights leading to manned operations, leaving it as the alternative/backup to Boeing (News - Alert) and SpaceX efforts for delivering crew to ISS.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman