Tag Archives: Sierra Nevada

Sierra Nevada and Canada sign agreement for using Dream Chaser

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada has signed an agreement with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to study ways in which Canada might utilize the company’s reusable Dream Chaser spacecraft.

This agreement is very preliminary, with no apparent specific plans announced nor any exchange of money. It is however another signal of the strong interest that foreign governments have in buying time on Dream Chaser, once it is operational.

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Sierra Nevada and German space center increase ties

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada and the German Aerospace Center have signed a new agreement increasing their partnership for using Dream Chaser in space.

The current MOU follows a 2013 Technical Understanding between the parties that initiated cooperation on space activities. This new agreement allows the two entities to establish goals and baseline objectives on future missions, scientific contributions and future space architecture for LEO, Cislunar and lunar operations, and deep space exploration.

It is clear once again that Sierra Nevada is trying to find partners who can pay to keep Dream Chaser flying as much as possible, between its cargo missions to ISS.

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UN announces proposed Dream Chaser international mission

Capitalism in space: The Outer Space office of the United Nations has announced an opportunity for member nations to express their interest in doing a science mission using Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser reusable spaceship.

The UN announcement states that

The purpose of this Call for Interest (CFI) is to provide a summary of the proposed mission and to solicit information from Member States interested in providing experiments, payloads, or satellites that could be flown on this mission. The CFI also has the objective of gathering information on the interested countries so that UNOOSA may better understand the demand for this type of mission.

The actual call [pdf] roughly describes a mission lasting 2 to 3 weeks and carrying about 20 experiments. This call is designed to give them a better idea of what those experiments might be, what nations wish to participate, and where the funding for the mission might come from. The actual announcement to submit experiment proposals won’t come until March 2018.

Being a UN mission, it is not surprising that it wants to focus on a variety of leftwing “Sustainable Development Goals”:
» Read more

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Dream Chaser test vehicle completes captive carry flight

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada’s engineering test vehicle for testing the glide abilities of its planned Dream Chaser shuttle craft successfully completed a captive carry test flight today.

After a long delay following the award of their cargo contract, it appears they are finally moving forward.

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Dream Chaser engineering vehicle completes tow tests

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada’s engineering test vehicle for testing its Dream Chaser design has completed tow tests at Edward Air Force Base in California and is now being prepared for flight tests.

Posted on the back roads of Montana during our drive from Glacier to Capital Reef.

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Sierra Nevada picks ULA’s Atlas 5 for first two Dream Chaser cargo flights

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada has awarded ULA the contract for the first two cargo flights of Dream Chaser to ISS.

The announcement sets Dream Chaser’s first cargo flight to the International Space Station for launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, in 2020. A second ISS cargo flight is contracted to lift off the next year. “ULA is an important player in the market and we appreciate their history and continued contributions to space flights and are pleased to support the aerospace community in Colorado and Alabama,” said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s Space Systems.

Financial terms of the contract were not disclosed.

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Dream Chaser test vehicle undergoing tow tests

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser engineering test vehicle underwent tow tests today.

Rolling on two main landing gear wheels and a nose skid, the Dream Chaser traveled down a runway Monday in Sierra Nevada’s latest tow test at Edwards Air Force Base, which is co-located with NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center. Once cut free from its tow vehicle, the Dream Chaser slowed to a stop, allowing engineers to gather data on the craft’s brakes, steering system, and guidance, navigation and control sensors that will line the spaceplane up for landing, according to Eric Cain, a Sierra Nevada engineer who described Monday’s test on the company’s Twitter account.

More tests are planned in the coming months, including additional tow tests and a “captive carry” flight with the Dream Chaser suspended under a helicopter.

This is the same engineering test vehicle that underwent tow tests and flew successfully once, though its landing gear failed up upon touchdown. They have replaced that landing gear, which was borrowed from the Air Force and was never intended to be the spacecraft’s wheels. Thus, they need to go through these tests all over.

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Dream Chaser flight tests upcoming

The competition heats up: According to Sierra Nevada officials, drop tests and glide tests of the engineering test ship of its Dream Chaser cargo spacecraft will begin this spring.

The partially-assembled test craft arrived at the California test site, located on Edwards Air Force Base, on Jan. 25. Technicians are adding the ship’s V-shaped tail fins and other equipment before kicking off ground and flight tests in the coming months, according to Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of Sierra Nevada’s space systems division. “We’ll do a series of ground tests,” Sirangelo said in a recent interview. “That will include towing the vehicle down the runway, and that allows us to see how it stops and how it moves, but it also allows us to test all the sensors on the vehicle because we can get it up to a high enough speed where that will happen.”

…After the ground tests, Sirangelo said the Dream Chaser test article will perform “captive carry” tests suspended under a helicopter, using the exercises to verify the movements of the craft’s aerosurfaces and navigation instrumentation. “When that’s done, we’ll move into a series of flight tests, where it will be dropped for approach and landing like the shuttle Enterprise,” Sirangelo said, referring to the vehicle NASA used for landing demonstrations in the 1970s before the first full-up space shuttle mission.

This all sounds great, but Sierra Nevada has been promising these test flights now for more than a year. It is time they got started already.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Orbital ATK and SpaceX win Air Force contracts

The competition heats up: The Air Force has awarded Orbital ATK and SpaceX contracts to develop new rocket engines to help end the U.S.’s reliance on Russian rocket engines.

The Orbital contract is initially worth $47 million, with the company committed to spend $31 million of its own money., according to the Defense Department’s daily digest of major contract awards. Eventually the government could pay the company $180 million. SpaceX’s contract meanwhile was for $33.6 million initially for the development of its new Raptor upper stage engine, with a total government payment to be $61 million.

And that’s not all. Later today NASA will announce the winners in its second ISS cargo contract. The competitors are SpaceX, Orbital ATK, and Sierra Nevada. I am hoping the latter two win, since that would allow the construction of a fourth American spacecraft, Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser, capable of lifting cargo and crew into space.

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Another new American rocket engine tested successfully

The competition heats up: Sierra Nevada has successfully tested a new rocket engine, dubbed Vortex, specifically designed to fulfill a wide range of uses. From the press release:

These tests demonstrate the ability to transition use of different propellant combinations in the same core rocket engine design with slight changes to accommodate a specific combination of fuel and oxidizer, including propane and kerosene fuels with nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and liquid oxygen oxidizers. This latest development offers customers a suite of engines scalable to higher thrust levels and customer-selected fuel combinations from a single core rocket engine design. ORBITEC’s patented vortex rocket engines utilize a unique swirling propellant flow to naturally cool the engine walls, allowing for the development and manufacture of simpler, low-cost, light-weight and more robust rocket engine systems.

What strikes me about this is that, until SpaceX built its Merlin engine in the mid-2000s, it had been decades since the American aerospace industry had developed a new rocket engine. After the development of the shuttle’s main engines in the late 1970s nothing new was created for the rest of the 20th century. Since Merlin, however, we have seen a string of new engines from several different companies, suggesting that the new renaissance I wrote about back in 2005 is on-going and accelerating.

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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.

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NASA to decide on 2nd cargo contracts Nov 5

The competition heats up: NASA will announce the two contract winners for its second round of ISS cargo contracts on November 5.

If it was up to me to pick the two winners from the four companies bidding, SpaceX, Boeing, Orbital ATK, and Sierra Nevada, I would go with Orbital ATK and Sierra Nevada. SpaceX and Boeing already have contracts to ferry crews to ISS with their Dragon and Starliner capsules. By picking Orbital ATK’s Cygnus capsule and Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser reusable mini-shuttle, NASA would then have four different ways to get payloads to ISS.

Sadly, the decision is not up to me. It is more likely NASA will pick SpaceX and Boeing. Boeing especially is likely to get picked because they are an established big player with lots of capital and influence.

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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.

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Lockheed Martin eliminated from ISS cargo contract competition

The competition heats up: NASA has eliminated Lockheed Martin’s bid for the second round of ISS cargo contracts.

This leaves SpaceX, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, and Orbital ATK in the running. While dropping Lockheed Martin reduces the number of competitors for the contracts, it increases the competition between them. The decision is now expected in November.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Lockheed Martin enters the competition to supply cargo for ISS

The competition heats up: Lockheed Martin has joined Sierra Nevada, Orbital ATK, Boeing, and SpaceX in bidding for NASA’s next contract to ferry cargo to ISS.

Lockheed’s proposal is different in that it proposes a two spacecraft operation. The cargo would be hauled up in a very simple storage bin, where a long-term orbital tug would grab it and take it to ISS. The idea is that they would only have to build and launch the complicated thrusters, robot arms, computers, and avionics of their cargo freighter once, thereby saving money.

Two companies will be chosen. Since the first competition back in the mid-2000s, when NASA picked SpaceX and Kistler for the first cargo round, the quality of the bids has improved remarkably. Back then, NASA had to choose from a bunch of new companies, none of which had ever done this before. The big companies (Boeing, Lockheed Martin) then poo-pooed the competition, saying that it couldn’t be done as cheap as the new companies claimed. After Kistler went under and was replaced by Orbital, they and SpaceX proved the big companies were wrong.

Now the competition includes all the big players, except that those big players are no longer offering expensive systems but cut-rate efficient designs that are as cost effective as SpaceX and Orbital’s first designs.

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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.

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