NASA approves Dream Chaser design


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Capitalism in space? Sierra Nevada has, after several years of work, obtained NASA’s approval of the design of its Dream Chaser mini-shuttle, and will now begin construction.

I put a question mark in the header above because I am no longer sure Sierra Nevada is building a privately designed and privately owned spacecraft for the launch market. It seems that they have been captured entirely by NASA, and will instead be building the spacecraft NASA wants, which might raise costs enough to make this vehicle unaffordable for other customers.

The situation is understandable. Sierra Nevada does not have the independent capital that gives SpaceX its independence. It needs NASA to get this ship built, and thus will do whatever NASA demands. I just worry that NASA, unconcerned about cost (as is every agency in the federal government today), will spoil Dream Chaser’s viability in the commercial market.

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2 comments

  • Richard M

    Assuming this is getting priced upwards, there might still be a market for state actors, or scientific institutions heavily subsidized by state actors.

    Let us say a Dream Chaser Flight will cost a customer $120 million, launch vehicle included (I have no idea what SN plans to price it out at for non-NASA customers). The ESA or the UAE might not be able to afford the billions it would cost to build and operate their own crew vehicles, but might well find $120 million to put up a few of their astronauts and some experiments for several days something they could actually afford – and want to do. Especially if they don’t have to hassle with NASA.

    Of course, Dream Chaser is only a cargo vehicle at present, but it had all of its initial development as a crew vehicle, and may yet get a NASA contract for that in the next Commercial Crew contract round.

    Perhaps we will get a better idea of the market if and when SpaceX actually lands a non-NASA client for Dragon. They’re really pursuing BFR now, but I can’t think they won’t answer the phone if a serious offer for Dragon comes from a well-heeled client.

  • Edward

    Part of the beauty of Dream Chaser is that it provides a second vehicle that can return bulk cargo from space. I prefer the design for controlled landing on runways over the capsule under parachutes. It will be interesting to see how well Dream Chaser fares, after the disappointment of the Space Shuttle.

    Richard M wrote: “Perhaps we will get a better idea of the market if and when SpaceX actually lands a non-NASA client for Dragon.

    A non-NASA client for crewed Dragon (or cargo Dragon, for that matter) probably won’t happen until Bigelow or one of the other aspiring commercial space station companies gets something into space. This should happen in the next two or three years, beginning the creation of a much larger market for manned space.

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