Sierra Space signs partnership deal with Turkey

Sierra Space and ESEN (another affiliated company of Sierra Space’s mother company Sierra Nevada) have signed a partnership agreement with the Turkish Space Agency to work together over the next five years in developing Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser spacecraft and its LIFE orbital space station.

Though the agreement mentions how the three will work together to develop both Dream Chaser and LIFE, because of State department security regulations Sierra Space must be very careful about what technology it reveals to Turkey. I therefore expect the heart of the agreement are these two bullet points from the press release:

  • Space environment utilization on-orbit in LEO, including use of Sierra Space’s Large Integrated Flexible Environment (LIFE) space habitat module
  • Sending payloads to low Earth orbit (LEO) and the moon

Turkey wants to launch its own planetary probes as well as astronauts in order to compete with its Middle East neighbor the UAE. It has thus decided to pay Sierra Space to help it do that. The company can use the cargo Dream Chaser to lift smallsat payloads into orbit, and later use the manned version to lift Turkish astronauts to the LIFE station.

NASA awards contracts to three private space station projects

Capitalism in space: NASA today announced development contract awards to three different private space station projects.

  • Nanoracks Starlab concept won $160 million. Partners include Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin.
  • Blue Origin’s Orbital Reef project was awarded $130 million, partnering with Sierra Space, Boeing, and Redwire.
  • Northrop Grumman won $125.6 million on a concept based on upgrades to its Cygnus freighter.

All three contracts are Space Act agreements, designed by NASA to jumpstart the companies and their design efforts. All three are in addition to the effort by Axiom to build its own ISS modules that will eventually detach to form its own independent station.

That’s four private American space stations now in the works. All are aiming to launch before this decade is out.

Sierra Space raises $1.4 billion in investment capital

Capitalism in space: Sierra Space, the space subsidiary of Sierra Nevada, has raised $1.4 billion in investment capital in a recent round of fund-raising.

The company will use the funds to support development of Dream Chaser, the lifting-body vehicle it is building for to transport cargo for the International Space Station starting in late 2022. The company originally developed Dream Chaser to carry people as a competitor in NASA’s commercial crew program, and company executives have frequently stated they still plan to develop a crewed version at a later date.

The funds will also support development of its Large Integrated Flexible Environment (LIFE) inflatable module. Both LIFE and Dream Chaser are part of Orbital Reef, the commercial space station concept announced Oct. 25 by a team that includes Sierra Space along with Blue Origin, Boeing and Redwire.

It appears that the investment community likes the Orbital Reef commercial space station concept, and especially likes Sierra Space’s part in it. This influx of cash also suggests that the investors got a good look at the status of Dream Chaser, and were satisfied its development was proceeding as planned.

Where to find life in the Milky Way galaxy

A paper published today on the Los Alamos astro-ph preprint website has attempted to model the habitable zones within the Milky Way galaxy. From the abstract:

We predict that ~1.2% of all stars host a planet that may have been capable of supporting complex life at some point in the history of the Galaxy. Of those stars with a habitable planet, ~75% of planets are predicted to be in a tidally locked configuration with their host star. The majority of these planets that may support complex life are found towards the inner Galaxy, distributed within, and significantly above and below, the Galactic midplane.[emphasis mine]

They took into consideration the hazard of supernovae for killing off planetary life, as well as other factors such as the where the necessary heavier elements would be available for producing planets.

You can download the paper here [pdf].

First planet discovered that might harbor life!

Big news! Scientists have discovered the first rocky terrestrial planet orbiting its sun at a distance where life as we know it could form. The planet itself has a mass three to four times Earth, so no matter what, conditions on its surface would be very different than here. Nonetheless, this is a major discovery, and is only the first of many. Key quote:

The discovery suggests habitable planets must be common, with 10 to 20 per cent of red dwarfs and sun-like stars boasting them, the team says. That’s because Gliese 581 is one of just nine stars out to its distance that have been searched with high enough precision to reveal a planet in the habitable zone.