SNC’s “Dream Chaser” Among NASA CRS-2 Contract Winners

Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada, and SpaceX have won a minimum of six launches each in the second round of International Space Station Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract awards. The decision was announced yesterday at a press conference at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

International Space Station (ISS) Program Director Sam Scimemi said the launches will take place between 2019 and 2024. While the maximum potential value of the contracts is stated at $14 billion, no official orders have been placed and Scimemi acknowledged actual values will be “nowhere near” the $14b amount.

CRS1 contractors SpaceX and Orbital ATK have been delivering cargo to the ISS since 2012 (2013 for Orbital ATK). Both suffered setbacks in the form of launch failures, but have since successfully returned to flight. Orbital ATK returned to the ISS in late 2015 and SpaceX is expected to make its first cargo delivery (since June) to the ISS this March.

Five companies submitted proposals for CRS-2: Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada, and SpaceX. Boeing and Lockheed Martin were eliminated last year, leaving Sierra Nevada the lone newcomer to the contract.

Unlike SpaceX and Orbital ATK, which use capsules to deliver cargo to the space station, Sierra Nevada will employ its Dream Chaser spacecraft. 

The Dream Chaser craft is similar to NASA’s Space Shuttle, capable of taking off vertically inside a rocket fairing and landing horizontally on a variety of runways.

The cargo version of Dream Chaser is an adaptation of the crew version the company designed as part of its participation in NASA’s Commercial Crew Development Program. Ultimately, Sierra Nevada lost the commercial crew contracts to Boeing and SpaceX in 2014.

Dream Chaser will feature folding wings and an external cargo module, which will allow it to fit within the payload fairing of either an Atlas 5 or Ariane 5 rocket. Sierra Nevada cited this dual capability as one of the reasons its proposal was selected.

The ability to get scientific experiments and samples quickly from the ISS and into the hands of scientists on Earth is an added benefit of the Dream Chaser, with its capability for horizontal landings (which will most likely take place on a runway at Kennedy Space Center in Florida).

I’ll be back with more on the Dream Chaser next week. For now, enjoy this design video from SNC, complete with super-intense soundtrack.

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