NASA Hires Sierra Nevada’s “Dream Chaser” For Future Missions


Sierra Nevada Corp., which has developed a reusable, runway-landing space vehicle, will join SpaceX and Orbital ATK in the next cycle of NASA missions to the International Space Station. NASA on Thursday announced it has picked the three companies to conduct the spaceflights between 2019 and 2024. Each will operate a minimum of six missions, including those to carry supplies and equipment to the space station, agency officials said at a press conference. Unlike the cargo capsule operations already in use by Orbital ATK and SpaceX, the newcomer, Sierra Nevada, offers a folding-wing vehicle called Dream Chaser that’s reminiscent of NASA’s space shuttle. Agency officials said the new spacecraft, which has not yet rolled out, will offer advantages such as “rapid return” of research materials, such as live organisms, back to Earth with gentle landings.

Sierra Nevada, which had protested its loss in a previous bid to provide its services to NASA, issued a statement Thursday saying it was honored to be selected. “In such a major competition, we are truly humbled by the show of confidence in SNC and look forward to successfully demonstrating the extensive capabilities of the Dream Chaser spacecraft to the world,” the company said. All the mission contracts could amount to $14 billion between 2016 through 2024, NASA says, but the costs will vary as it orders missions that will vary in purpose. “It is likely we will buy more than 18 flights,” said Kirk Shireman, space station program manager. Future missions to the space station also will allow the addition of a seventh astronaut to the crew, NASA said.