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Sierra Nevada delays first Dream Chaser launch to ’22

Sierra Nevada officials revealed yesterday that they are delaying the first test flight of their Dream Chaser reusable cargo mini-shuttle from late 2021 to some unspecified time in 2022.

‘’COVID has definitely played a role” in that delay, said Steve Lindsey, senior vice president for strategy at SNC Space Systems. One example he gave involved structural testing of the spacecraft’s cargo module at a contractor’s facility in San Diego. COVID-related restrictions prevented SNC engineers from being on site at that facility to oversee the tests. SNC developed a workaround by using a mission control center it developed for Dream Chaser in Colorado so those engineers could remotely oversee those tests. “That worked great. Unfortunately, it took probably three or four times as long as it should have,” he said.

A related problem, he said, involves suppliers who have had to suspend operations because of COVID-19 outbreaks at their facilities. There have also been technical challenges with Dream Chaser, although he did not go into details about specific issues. [emphasis mine]

I underline the unspecified technical issues, because I suspect they might be the real issue. SpaceX has not been slowed in any significant way due to the Wuhan panic, even though it deals with NASA also. I would therefore not be surprised if they are using COVID-19 as a cover for other issues.

It is a new craft, and problems are expected. I’d just rather they didn’t hide it. It contributes to doubts about the company, which by the way has been much slower in its development than one should expect. NASA awarded this contract in January of 2016, with the first launch then planned for as early as October 2019. It is now 2020, and the launch is still now two years away.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


  • David

    I’d highlight the “suppliers who had to shut down their operations” myself. SpaceX is highly integrated and not nearly as reliant on outside suppliers as almost all of their competitors. Also, SpaceX in general, and Musk in particular, took a lot of heat early for not shutting down. I bet most of their competitors, if they were even inclined to stay open, saw that and decided they didn’t want to step into the line of fire themselves.

    That said, of course there are technical problems. There are always technical problems that cause delays. SpaceX has a culture that smashes them flat and moves on in days or weeks, and that’s almost unique in the industry where delays are usually measured in months or years.

  • Ray Van Dune

    Hopefully SpaceX is setting the new standard for advanced technology development and manufacturing companies, and not just in aerospace. But I wonder if the labor market can support more than a handful of SpaceXs. Perhaps the experienced engineers are too expensive and cannot adapt to Elon-time, and our universities aren’t producing the quality and quantity of young grads needed?

  • Jay

    Ray Van Dune,
    You are correct about the engineers coming out of schools. One thing I look for when hiring engineers is are they part of some engineering club (besides IEEE or ASME), or work on cars, or something outside of the classroom that is hands-on technology and competitive. You do Battlebots, or race cars, or Ham Radio, or doing a rocket competition in college? Those are the graduates you want working for you.

  • Jay

    Sorry, got off topic with my previous post. That is weird that Sierra Nevada did not say what quarter of ’22. I remember reading that besides the commercial cargo loads to the ISS, they had scheduled another private payload for ’22. I guess the schedule has slipped on that one.

  • pzatchok

    Covid is being used as an excuse.

    The company I work for supplies all of the larger aerospace and military companies, both domestic and foreign.
    We have not missed a single day of production.

    All of our customers are quite happy with us.

    I can see a few days of a shut down maybe even a month if government mandated, but seriously. There are things called overtime and weekends to make them up.
    Your suppliers and customers are only as serious as you are.

  • Col Beausabre

    Jay, Don’t forget model railroading.

    Penn State – Altoona is offering a degree in Rail Transportation Engineering

    and the engineering faculty is working with the Norfolk Southern Shops in Altoona on several joint projects

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