Tag Archives: Dream Chaser

Using the X-37B as a space ambulance?

Researchers have proposed using the Air Force’s X-37B as an ambulance in space.

Halberg said that an effective astronaut taxi should, among other things, be able to stay at the ISS for two years or more at a stretch; be capable of getting people back to Earth rapidly, within three hours or so; impose minimal G-loads on occupants; have the ability to land close to a hospital; and allow patients to lie in a supine position. These requirements all point to a space plane rather than a capsule, Halberg said — meaning SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and Boeing’s CST-100 capsule, which are scheduled to start flying NASA astronauts to and from the ISS within the next year or two, wouldn’t make the grade as ambulances.

Another private crew-carrying vehicle that’s currently in development, Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Chaser space plane, is an intriguing option that bears further investigation, Robinson and Halberg said. But their initial concept study focused on the robotic X-37B, chiefly because the 29-foot-long (8.8 meters) military space plane has already racked up millions of miles in orbit, while Dream Chaser has yet to launch.

Makes sense, though once Dream Chaser is flying it will have the potential to provide the same service with far greater capabilities.

Midland spaceport approved as Dream Chaser landing site

The spaceport in Midland, Texas has been approved as a potential landing site for Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser reusable mini-shuttle.

Midland is pushing to have Sierra Nevada make it the company’s main landing site for the spacecraft. So far, that decision however has not been made.

Dream Chaser to fly 14-day UN mission in 2021

The competition heats up: Sierra Nevada today signed a deal with the United Nations to fly a 14-day mission in 2021 using Dream Chaser.

The first-ever United Nations space mission is intended to launch in 2021 and will allow United Nations Member States to participate in a 14-day flight to low-Earth orbit (LEO) on SNC’s Dream Chaser spacecraft. “One of UNOOSA’s core responsibilities is to promote international cooperation in the peaceful use of outer space,” said Simonetta Di Pippo, director of UNOOSA. “I am proud to say that one of the ways UNOOSA will achieve this, in cooperation with our partner SNC, is by dedicating an entire microgravity mission to United Nations Member States, many of which do not have the infrastructure or financial backing to have a standalone space program.”

According to Ms. Di Pippo, funding of the mission will come from multiple sources. “We will continue to work closely with SNC to define the parameters of this mission which, in turn, will provide United Nations Member States with the ability to access space in a cost-effective and collaborative manner within a few short years. The possibilities are endless.” Countries selected to provide mission payloads will be asked to pay a pro-rated portion of the mission cost, based on the resources required to host the payload and their ability to pay. In addition, major sponsors are being sought to finance a large portion of the mission costs.

While the press today is in a feeding frenzy writing stories about Elon Musk’s speech, they are ignoring this story. Yet, this deal between the UN and Sierra Nevada is actually far more important. Musk’s proposals, while exciting and important in how they move the conversation of space exploration forward, are mostly Powerpoint fantasies. He does not have customers for his interplanetary transportation system. He does not have a rocket. All he has is the Raptor engine, which is only beginning its design testing. It will be years before any of his proposals here become real.

This UN/Sierra Nevada deal however is reality. A private American company is building a spaceship that it is now selling successfully to third world nations. Actual money will change hands. Profit will be earned. And Sierra Nevada will be in a position to use those earnings to upgrade and advance its designs. This will be the future, far sooner than Elon Musk’s International Transportation System.

Sierra Nevada preps for Dream Chaser glide tests

The competition heats up: In preparing its Dream Chaser engineering test vehicle for glide tests in California this fall, Sierra Nevada unveiled it to the press yesterday.

This is essentially the test vehicle’s first public viewing since its one glide test, when the front landing gear did not deploy correctly and the vehicle was damaged during landing. Since the landing gears were not the gears being developed for the flight craft, and since the glide test itself went well, both the company and NASA considered that glide test to be a success.

It has now been refurbished for new tests in conjunction with the company’s contract to use Dream Chaser as a cargo ship for NASA.

Sierra Nevada completes first Dream Chaser milestone

The competition heats up: Even as it prepares to complete the last milestone in its NASA contract for developing a manned version of Dream Chaser, Sierra Nevada has just completed the first milestone on its contract to build a cargo version of the reusable lifting body spaceplane.

Though Sierra Nevada did not win a contract to build the manned Dream Chaser, it did have a development contract with NASA that called for one more glide flight test, a test the company had until now decided not to fly because the cost would exceed the milestone payment. This changed however after they won a cargo contract, as the flight will provide important test data for building the cargo version.

Meanwhile, the company’s plan for building the cargo vehicle has been approved by NASA, thus rewarding them their first milestone on that contract, with the following schedule:

Per current schedule goals, Mr. Olson added the inaugural Dream Chaser cargo flight to ISS is aiming for a launch – on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V – as early as October 2019, or as late as April 2020. The company is aiming to build two Dream Chasers, able to fly a total of 30 times over a 10 year lifetime.

Once built and successfully flying, they also plan to move forward on developing the manned version, both for NASA and for others.

Sierra Nevada signs deal with UN

The competition heats up: Sierra Nevada has signed a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations, creating the framework for UN member nations to use its Dream Chaser cargo vehicle for science research.

Under the agreement, [Sierra Nevada] committed to dedicating one or more Dream Chaser missions that will host payloads from member countries. The cooperation will focus on developing an interface control document and payload hosting guide to allow payloads developed by participating countries, especially non-space-faring ones, to be flown into orbit.

What this means is that American space technology, developed and owned privately rather than built by NASA, is beginning to grab business wherever it can find it. These UN space missions eventually flown on Dream Chaser might be foreign built, but it will be the American spacecraft that gets them to space..Sierra Nevada will not only make money doing so, it will position itself financially to develop even better space products that it can sell worldwide. Nor will Sierra Nevada be alone in this. The result will be the increasing prosperity of the American aerospace industry as it gains a larger share in the settlement of the solar system.

Sierra Nevada prepares for Dream Chaser glide tests

The competition heats up: Sierra Nevada now expects to deliver its refurbished engineering test prototype of Dream Chaser to NASA for new glide tests in August.

“Our version of the shuttle Enterprise is about to be finished for its next phase of flight tests,” [said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president.] “Somewhere in the August time frame, it’s going to be shipped off to California, to the Armstrong [Flight Research] Center and to Edwards to be in Phase 2 of flight testing, which is going to be really fun and exciting.”

Sirangelo said lessons learned from the atmospheric flight tests will be applied to the development of the orbital test vehicle, which is now being outfitted in Colorado. That test vehicle, in turn, will blaze the trail for the spacecraft that will carry cargo for NASA under the CRS-2 contract. “We are looking to be launching on time, which is about three years from now, in the second half of 2019,” Sirangelo said.

They get this cargo version flying successfully, and they will certainly get a contract to build a manned version.

Sierra Nevada favors Alabama for Dream Chaser’s commercial port

The competition heats up: At a workshop in Alabama this week Sierra Nevada’s vice president indicated that though the company has not yet finalized its decision, it is strongly leaning to picking Huntsville as the commercial spaceport for its Dream Chaser mini-shuttle, being built to ferry cargo to ISS.

“There was a leap of faith on the Huntsville side that we would be a company that could get this vehicle built and start servicing the space station…,” Sierra Nevada Vice President John Roth said Thursday. “Yes, we have been approached by other airports for ventures. We’re not moving forward at this time with any of those. Right now, Huntsville is the only community we’re moving forward with a (landing) license on.”

A preliminary local study identified four hurdles to landing Dream Chaser at the Huntsville International Airport: required licenses for the craft and airport, environmental impact approval, Federal Aviation Administration approval of the landing path and possible runway damage.

Why do I sense the unseen hand of porkmeister Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) in this story? Could it be that one of the reasons NASA finally included Dream Chaser in its cargo contract was that the company had not only chosen the Alabama-based Atlas 5 rocket for its launch vehicle but was also courting Alabama for its commercial base, and Shelby had made it clear behind the scenes that he wanted that business? Could it be that Sierra Nevada is now returning the favor, having gotten the contract?

Don’t get me wrong. I think it was a good choice for NASA to give that contract to Sierra Nevada. I just think it important to note how giving some of our power away to politicians allows them to wield that power over us, sometimes to our benefit, sometimes against it, but always to make themselves more powerful. In the end, giving that power away is never a good option.

Europe kicks in money for Dream Chaser

The competition heats up: NASA’s decision to award Sierra Nevada a cargo contract has triggered a $36 million investment by the European Space Agency (ESA) to build a new docking unit for Dream Chaser at ISS.

Sierra Nevada Corp.’s win of a NASA contract to ferry cargo to the International Space Station will trigger a $36 million investment by the 22-nation European Space Agency following a cooperation agreement to be signed in the coming weeks, ESA said. Once the agreement is signed, ESA will begin work building the first flight model of the International Berthing and Docking Mechanism (IBDM), which Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser Cargo System will use to attach itself to the space station.

ESA said it would spend 33 million euros ($36 million) to complete the design of the IBDM and build a flight model for Dream Chaser’s first cargo run. Future IBDMs will be financed by Sierra Nevada, ESA said.

SpaceX, Orbital ATK, and Sierra Nevada awarded contracts to ISS

The competition heats up: NASA has decided to award contracts to all three competitors, Orbital ATK, SpaceX, and Sierra Nevada, in the second round of cargo contracts to ISS.

Or as Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork, take it.”

The main winners appear to be Orbital and SpaceX, with Sierra Nevada coming in later. Details at this moment remain vague, so stay tuned.

Competition for ISS cargo contract reduced to three

The competition heats up: With NASA once again delaying its decision on the next contract round for supplying cargo to ISS — this time to January — Boeing also revealed that NASA had eliminated the company from the competition, leaving only SpaceX, Orbital ATK, and Sierra Nevada in the running for the two contracts.

Earlier I had said that if the decision had been up to me, which of course it isn’t, I would pick Orbital and Sierra Nevada, since SpaceX and Boeing already have contracts to ferry crews to ISS. If you add Orbital’s Cygnus and Sierra Nevada’s reusable Dream Chaser, you then have four different spacecraft designs capable of bring payloads into orbit, a robust amount of redundancy that can’t be beat. When I wrote that I also noted that I thought it wouldn’t happen because Boeing’s clout with Congress and NASA would make it a winner.

With Boeing now out of the picture, it seems to me that the reason NASA has delayed its final decision again is that it wants to see what happens with the return to flight launches of Dragon and Cygnus in the next three months. A SpaceX Dragon success will cement that company’s position in the manned contract area, while an Orbital ATK Cygnus succuss will make picking them for a second contract seem less risky. In addition, maybe NASA wants Sierra Nevada to fly another glide test of its Dream Chaser test vehicle, and is now giving it the time to do so.

Sierra Nevada touts new work on Dream Chaser

The competition heats up: As part of the normal lobbying that companies due prior the awarding of a government contract, Sierra Nevada today put out a press release describing the work they are doing to prepare both their Dream Chaser engineering test article (ETA) for glide tests and their Dream Chaser orbital vehicle for flight tests.

The announcement describes how they plan to do the next ETA glide test early in 2016, followed by orbital test flights of the orbital vehicle. Of course, that plan depends entirely on whether NASA picks them as one of the two companies for the second round of contracts to provide cargo to ISS.

The release however does include a nice picture of the ETA, which looks completely ship-shape following the failure at landing of one of its landing wheels during the first glide test. They have since replaced those wheels, which came from an airplane and were not the intending wheels for the actual spacecraft.

India’s spaceplane prototype to fly by August

The competition heats up: The first test flight of India’s prototype scaled-down version of a reusable spaceplane is expected by late July or early August at the latest.

It appears the Modi government is accelerating development of this mini-shuttle, which is essentially India’s version of Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser. If they build it first, it will mean they will have the chance to grab the business that Sierra Nevada has been hoping to grab.

NASA ISS cargo contracts delayed

The competition heats up: NASA has delayed, for the second time, when it will award its next round of cargo contracts to ISS, pushing the date back from June to September.

Though agency officials said they could not reveal why they had delayed the contract awards, they did say it was to gather more information. My guess is that the agency wants to see how SpaceX’s launch abort tests turn out this year before it makes a decision. If successful, they will then have the option of dropping SpaceX’s as a cargo carrier and pick someone else, possibly Dream Chaser, to provide up and down service to ISS. That way, they would increase the number of vehicles capable of bringing people and supplies up to ISS.

Delaying the award decision until September gives them time to evaluate the abort tests results, as well as give them a cushion in case those tests get delayed somewhat.

Sierra Nevada and Germany sign agreement

The competition heats up: Sierra Nevada has signed a new development agreement with Germany in connection with its Dream Chaser reusable mini-shuttle.

The agreement does not appear to involve any money and thus is largely symbolic. Nonetheless, it shows again that Germany is interested in having Dream Chaser built, and is throwing its support behind the manned spacecraft.

Sierra Nevada makes deal with Houston airport authority for Dream Chaser landings

Sierra Nevada has made an agreement with Houston’s airport authority to use Ellington Airport there to land its Dream Chaser spacecraft.

This announcement is part of the public relations push going on right now as NASA prepares to award its next round of cargo freighter contracts to two private companies. Sierra Nevada has bid to use an unmanned version of Dream Chaser to launch that cargo.

Sierra Nevada introduces its cargo version of Dream Chaser

The competition heats up: Sierra Nevada has unveiled a revised cargo version of Dream Chaser, competing for NASA next round of freighter contracts to ISS.

They have made a number of changes, but the most significant is the new folding wings, allowing the spacecraft to fit inside the fairings of most rocket systems. This also eliminates one of the concerns I have read about the previous design on whether its wings could have withstood exposure to the maximum atmospheric stresses experienced during launch.

NASA explains why it picked Boeing over Sierra Nevada

In a report released by NASA late last week, the agency outlined the reasons it picked Boeing’s CST-100 manned capsule over Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser mini-shuttle for the second contract to provide manned ferry capabilities to ISS.

Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser spacecraft, which would take off on top of a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket and land on a runway like the space shuttle, is not as far along in development as the competing CST-100 and Crew Dragon capsules proposed by Boeing and SpaceX, according to a source selection statement signed by Bill Gerstenmaier, head of NASA’s human exploration and operations directorate. “A winged spacecraft is a more complex design and thus entails more developmental and certification challenges, and therefore may have more technical and schedule risk than expected,” Gerstenmaier wrote in the selection statement.

NASA wants to have the commercial crew capsules operational by the end of 2017 to end U.S. purchases of astronaut seats on Russia’s Soyuz ferry craft. Before NASA permits its astronauts to fly on the CST-100 and Crew Dragon, each spaceship will go through ground testing and complete unpiloted and crewed test flights.

The reasoning seems quite reasonable. It also suggests that Sierra Nevada might have a better shot at winning a contract during the next round for cargo, as scheduling will not be as critical since NASA has other alternatives to get cargo to ISS.

Dream Chaser lives on!

The competition heats up: Sierra Nevada reveals that it intends to bid its Dream Chaser mini-shuttle as an ISS cargo vessel in NASA’s next round of cargo contracts.

The company also says that it is continuing development of the shuttle right now, despite the present lack of a contract. If this is true, I would expect them to do, as promised, the additional glide tests they had planned, using their engineering test vehicle. If not, then the claim of further development is merely talk, a lobbying effort to improve their chances of winning the next contract.

Not that I blame them. I just think they would do themselves a lot more good doing an actual glide test.

Sierra Nevada loses its protest of NASA contract decision

The GAO has ruled against Sierra Nevada’s protest of NASA’s decision to pick Boeing for its manned spacecraft decision.

The ruling is not really a surprise. Even if political considerations gave Boeing an unfair advantage, the space agency has enough legal leeway to make this decision as it did. The GAO recognized that it would be inappropriate to overrule them.

Bringing Dream Chaser home

The competition heats up: At an space industry conference this week Sierra Nevada outlined the ability of Dream Chaser to land at almost any airport, including the many financial and safety advantages of that flexibility.

The story notes that because Dream Chaser would not need an unusually long runway, it could land at most airports. Also, because it would have no hazardous materials on board, removing it from the runway after landing would be simple and straightforward. You would simply tow it away. The biggest advantage of this, howevr, is that if the spacecraft was docked at ISS and there was an emergency that required immediate evacuation, bringing Dream Chaser and its passengers home to a runway will be possible any time.

This presentation is part of Sierra Nevada’s sales effort to find new backers for their spacecraft, now that NASA has begged out. I think they make a good sales pitch. I hope someone with money agrees.

Sierra Nevada announces an X-37B version of Dream Chaser

The competition heats up: In a press release today, Sierra Nevada has announced plans to build a version of Dream Chaser optimized for science research.

The Dream Chaser for Science, or DC4Science, spacecraft is designed to fly independently for short and extended durations to provide customers in such fields as biotech and pharmaceuticals, biology and life science, and material and fluid science with a flexible and evolvable vehicle easily suited for individual mission requirements.

More details here.

I call this version of Dream Chaser a variation of the X-37B because that is essentially what it would be, an unmanned reusable robot vehicle capable of taking experiments into space for periods of time and then bringing them safely back to Earth on a runway.

What Sierra Nevada is doing by announcing this now, shortly after the landing of the X-37B, is selling the concept in an effort to drum up customers who will then invest in the vehicle and thus help fund its construction.

Court allows work on commercial crew to go forward

The court today ruled that NASA’s contract awards to SpaceX and Boeing for manned ferries to ISS can continue despite Sierra Nevada’s protest.

The decision on the protest itself is still pending.

Sierra Nevada fights back

The company that wants to build Dream Chaser has filed a lawsuit to prevent NASA from proceeding with its contracts with Boeing and SpaceX.

When Sierra Nevada had first protested the contract awards, NASA had first suspended work, then decided to allow work to go forward. This lawsuit is to prevent that from happening until after Sierra Nevada’s protest is resolved.

Here’s what I think is happening: Sierra Nevada has said it is going to submit a bid to NASA for the agency’s second round of cargo flights to ISS, proposing Dream Chaser as one of those unmanned freighters. By playing hard ball now with the manned contact awards, the company is creating leverage with NASA. Though no one can say this publicly, I am sure they are making it clear privately that if they get picked for the cargo contract, they will drop both their lawsuit and protest.

Why NASA picked Boeing over Sierra Nevada

A NASA internal document obtained by Aviation Week outlines the agency’s reasons for rejecting Sierra Nevada and its Dream Chaser spacecraft in its commercial manned space program.

Although the document praises Sierra’s “strong management approach to ensure the technical work and schedule are accomplished,” it cautions that the company’s Dream Chaser had “the longest schedule for completing certification.” The letter also states that “it also has the most work to accomplish which is likely to further extend its schedule beyond 2017, and is most likely to reach certification and begin service missions later than the other ‘Offerors’.”

Discussing costs, Gerstenmaier says that “although SNC’s [Sierra Nevada] price is lower than Boeing’s price, its technical and management approaches and its past performance are not as high and I see considerably more schedule risk with its proposal. Both SNC and SpaceX had high past performance, and very good technical and management approaches, but SNC’s price is significantly higher than SpaceX’s price.”

The document essentially was written, and probably leaked to the press now, to justify the political decision to give the contracts to Boeing and SpaceX. Thus, it waxes very enthusiastic about Boeing, since giving Boeing the contract, with the highest price and the least metal cut, needs some justification.

Stratolaunch and Sierra Nevada team up

The competition heats up: Sierra Nevada and Stratolaunch have signed an agreement to use a 3/4 scale version of Dream Chaser as the manned vehicle launched by Stratolaunch’s giant first stage airplane.

The Dream Chaser is a reusable, lifting-body spacecraft capable of crewed or autonomous flight. Dream Chaser is the only lifting-body spacecraft capable of a runway landing, anywhere in the world. Stratolaunch Systems is a Paul G. Allen project dedicated to developing an air-launch system that will revolutionize space transportation by providing orbital access to space at lower costs, with greater safety and more flexibility.

As designed, the Dream Chaser-Stratolauncher human spaceflight system can carry a crew of three astronauts to LEO destinations. This versatile system can also be tailored for un-crewed space missions, including science missions, light cargo transportation or suborbital point-to-point transportation. The scaled crewed spacecraft design is based on SNC’s full-scale Dream Chaser vehicle which, for the past four years, has undergone development and flight tests as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

More information is expected to be released about this partnership at the International Astronautical Congress taking place in Toronto this week.

Summing up, however, this partnership is a blatant challenge to NASA’s Orion/SLS system as well as its its commercial crew capsules built by Boeing and SpaceX. Sierra Nevada and Stratolaunch are essentially telling the world that they are going to build their own manned reusable vehicle, and that it is going to be better than anyone else’s.

Oh how I love competition. It sure makes things happen quickly.

Dream Chaser still alive!

The competition heats up: Sierra Nevada (SNC) has announced a new effort to gain international customers for its Dream Chaser manned spacecraft.

From the press release:

SNC’s Global Project offers clients across the globe access to low Earth orbit (LEO) without the time, resources and financial burden of developing the necessary capabilities or infrastructure to support a mature human spaceflight program. The Global Project utilizes the Dream Chaser spacecraft as a baseline vehicle which, in turn, can be customized by the client for an array of missions to support government, commercial, academic and international goals. The individual mission customization of the Global Project can be applied to both crewed and uncrewed variants for a single dedicated mission or suite of missions.

This is excellent news, as it tells us that the company is not giving up on the spacecraft, and intends to push hard to finish it. Not only are they working make it a viable product to many customers and thus obtain the construction financing to build it outside of NASA’s manned program, they also appear ready to bid on NASA’s second round of cargo launches, using Dream Chaser as an unmanned cargo freighter to ISS.

In fact, I would not be surprised if NASA chooses Dream Chaser over Dragon for that second round of cargo deliveries. Dragon is slated for the manned flights, so the agency will need another vehicle to replace it. Why not give the contract to Sierra Nevada, thus providing NASA with two manned vehicles and three cargo vehicles, all capable of accessing the station.

All in all, this increasingly looks like a win-win situation for everyone.

Sierra Nevada protests NASA manned spacecraft contact award

The competition heats up: Sierra Nevada has formally protested NASA’s decision to award Boeing and SpaceX manned spacecraft contracts.

The company said late Friday that its bid in the NASA Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCTCap) was $900 million less than the bid submitted by Boeing, which won a contract worth as much as $4.2 billion to complete development, test fly and operate its CST-100 crew capsule. At the same time, SNC said, its proposal was “near equivalent [in] technical and past performance” source-selection scoring.

“[T]he official NASA solicitation for the CCtCap contract prioritized price as the primary evaluation criteria for the proposals, setting it equal to the combined value of the other two primary evaluation criteria: mission suitability and past performance,” the company stated. “SNC’s Dream Chaser proposal was the second lowest priced proposal in the CCtCap competition.”

In other words, they are challenging NASA’s decision to pick Boeing over them, as their proposal was far cheaper.

We all know that Boeing got the contract as much for its political clout as for its technical expertise. NASA wanted to make sure that members of Congress who promote the Boeing jobs in their districts would have nothing to complain about. Whether Sierra Nevada can get the government to look past that political clout is very doubtful, though I think I support them whole-heartedly in their effort.

Dream Chaser is not dead according to Sierra Nevada

The competition heats up: Sierra Nevada plans to continue development of Dream Chaser, including using it to bid on the next round of unmanned cargo missions to ISS.

They also say they are considering protesting the contract awards to SpaceX and Boeing.

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