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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.