Tag Archives: Sierra Nevada

Sierra Nevada updates Dream Chaser status, names its cargo module

Capitalism in space: In providing a detailed update in the construction of its reusable Dream Chaser mini-shuttle, Sierra Nevada yesterday revealed that it has named the small expendable cargo module that it will be attached to its Dream Chaser “Shooting Star.”

As part of Dream Chaser’s overall design, the vehicle itself does not contain the berthing port or solar arrays needed for it to perform its mission. Instead, those elements are mounted on what had been, before today, referred to as the cargo module – an element of Dream Chaser that now has a dedicated name: Shooting Star.

The name is a nod to the fact that it is the only part of Dream Chaser that is disposable and will burn up in the atmosphere as a streaking ball of fire – just like a shooting star.

The module itself, while containing the solar arrays and main propulsion elements for orbital maneuvering, will also be capable of transporting a large amount of internal cargo to the Station. It is also the part of Dream Chaser on which external cargo can be mounted for delivery and disposal of external elements that are no longer needed for the orbital outpost.

The article provides many details about the status of Dream Chaser that are worth reading, including noting its other potential uses beyond supplying ISS with cargo.

Share

Dream Chaser’s primary structure completed

Capitalism in space: The primary structure for Sierra Nevada’s reusable mini-shuttle, Dream Chaser, has been completed and delivered to the company’s Colorado facility for final assembly.

Essentially, this structure, built by Lockheed Martin, is basically the hull of Dream Chaser. Sierra Nevada now has to install the guts.

They won the contract to build Dream Chaser from NASA in 2016, and for the past three years the company has said little about its progress, causing me concern that there might be issues. This story dispels those concerns.

It is also instructive to compare their progress with SLS, if only to illustrate the advantage of NASA buying what it needs from private companies, who retain ownership of their work, rather than having NASA design and own its hardware.

Dream Chaser: Sierra Nevada first began development of Dream Chaser in 2011, but full construction did not begin until the 2016 contract award. They hope to launch by the end of 2021. This means they will go from award to flight in five years.

The contract’s specific amount was never published, but NASA’s did say that the maximum it would spend for all missions performed by all three cargo capsules (SpaceX, Northrop Grumman, Sierra Nevada) would be $14 billion. This means Sierra Nevada’s share is probably around $4 to $5 billion.

SLS: NASA began its first design work on this heavy lift rocket in 2004, but the first design, dubbed Constellation, was cancelled by President Obama in 2010. Congress then stepped in and mandated that construction continue, under a revised design, now dubbed the Space Launch System. Launch of the first SLS is now expected in 2021.

The cost? Based on my research for my policy paper, Capitalism in Space, the cost by 2021 will be $25 billion.

So, while Sierra Nevada will take five years and $4 to $5 billion to fly its spacecraft, NASA will take eleven years and $25 billion to fly its. I admit the scale is different, but SLS fares as badly when a similar comparison is made with Falcon Heavy.

The difference? Dream Chaser is privately owned, privately designed, and privately managed, by one company, with the goal of making a profit as quickly as possible. SLS is government owned, government designed, and managed by a host of agencies, lawmakers, and contractors, with no set clear goal and no requirement to make a profit at any time.

Which product would you buy?

Share

Sierra Nevada unveils full scale Gateway habitat module prototype

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada yesterday unveiled a full scale prototype of a habitable module that it developed under a NASA contract for the agency’s proposed Lunar Gateway space station.

[The module] measures more than 8 meters long, and with a diameter of 8 meters has an internal volume of 300 cubic meters, which is about one-third the size of the International Space Station.

Sierra Nevada developed this full-scale prototype under a NASA program that funded several companies to develop habitats that could be used for a space station in orbit around the Moon, as well as potentially serving as living quarters for a long-duration transit to and from Mars. As part of the program, NASA astronauts have, or will, spend three days living in and evaluating the prototypes built by Sierra Nevada, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Bigelow Aerospace.

The selling point for Sierra Nevada’s habitat is its size, which is possible because the multi-layered fabric material can be compressed for launch, then expanded and outfitted as a habitat once in space. It can fit within a standard payload fairing used for launch vehicles such as SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan booster, or NASA’s Space Launch System. It is light enough for any of those rockets to launch to the Moon.

What we are seeing here is the unfolding of the Washington lobbying game to guarantee Gateway gets funded and built. NASA is spreading its available Gateway cash around to multiple companies, who will now have a vested interest in lobbying Congress to get this lunar space station funded and built.

The one very good component of this lobbying process is that NASA is not doing the building or the designing. It is hiring private companies, which means the project will act to stimulate the American aerospace industry. Moreover, it is leaving the ownership of the spacecraft and the decision on what launch vehicle to use to the companies, which means this cannot be used as a lever to fund the SLS boondoggle. Under this arrangement more will get done faster for less.

Even so, Lunar Gateway will mostly act to slow the United States’ effort to colonize the solar system. We will be spending our government space dollars on an orbiting lunar space station, thus generally trapping us in orbit, as we watch China, India, Russia and others land and explore the surface.

There is only one way Gateway could possibly be beneficial to the United States. NASA gets it built fast and cheaply, so that it then can be used as a jumping off point for further exploration. This would give the U.S. capabilities in space that far exceed other countries.

My fear is that NASA has a terrible track record in the past half century of doing anything fast or cheaply. Instead, NASA projects like Gateway end up taking forever and costing many times their initial proposed budget. SLS is a perfect poster child for this. Its goal is not so much to launch as to provide Congress endless pork.

Share

Schedule for Dragon/Starliner manned flights revised

Capitalism in space: NASA has released a new updated planning schedule for the manned flights of both SpaceX’s Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner manned capsules.

Boeing’s first unmanned demo flight of Starliner is now set for September 17, 2019. This will be followed by SpaceX’s first manned Dragon flight, scheduled for November 15, 2019. Boeing will then follow with its first manned Starliner flight on November 30, 2019.

These are considered target dates. I have great doubts that the Starliner schedule will proceed as described, while SpaceX’s schedule is more likely.

The article also had this interesting tidbit about the upcoming launch schedule of Sierra Nevada’s unmanned reusable cargo ship Dream Chaser:

According to the document, the first flight of Dream Chaser will take place in a planned September 2021 timeframe and will see the vehicle remain berthed to the International Space Station for up to 75 days before returning to Earth to land on a runway for reuse.

There are clearly issues with all these commercial projects. For example, the GAO today released a new report citing the numerous delays in this commercial manned program and calling for NASA to come up with a more complete back-up plan.

Nonetheless, the 2020s have the potential to be the most exciting decade in space exploration since the 1960s. If all goes even close to these plans, the U.S. will have three operating manned spacecraft (Dragon, Starliner, Orion), two reusable cargo spacecraft (Dragon, Dream Chaser), one non-reusable (Cygnus), and a plethora of launch companies putting up payloads of all kinds, from planetary missions to basic commercial satellites numbering in the thousands.

Much could happen to prevent all this. Keep your fingers crossed that nothing will.

Share

NASA approves Dream Chaser design

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.

Share

Sierra Nevada opens all rockets to launching Dream Chaser

In a status update for its Dream Chaser reusable mini-shuttle cargo ship to ISS, Sierra Nevada officials also revealed that they are considering a wide range of launch companies for future launches.

SNC announced a contract with ULA in July 2017 that covered two Dream Chaser launches, in 2020 and 2021. Both would use the Atlas 5 552, the largest version of the Atlas 5 with a five-meter payload fairing, five solid rocket boosters and a dual-engine Centaur upper stage.

However, Sirangelo said the company was looking at other options for launching the second and later Dream Chaser ISS cargo missions. “It’s a quite interesting time in the launch business, where we see all the major launch companies coming out with a new launch system,” he said. “We are looking at all of the launch systems.” Sirangelo said later that the company issued a request for proposals for multiple Dream Chaser launches. “We’ll probably be making a decision by the end of this year,” he said. “We’re gotten tremendous response for it.” He declined to discuss specific vehicles under consideration but said SNC received “really great response from all the major providers.”

Their willingness to open up the launch bidding is merely a recognition that they can save money by encouraging competition for their business. The vehicle itself has not yet completed its design review, though they hope to begin its assembly within a month, with a planned launch date in late 2020.

The company was awarded its cargo contract in January 2016, more than two years ago. It seems to me that it has taken far too long to get to this point. I wonder if NASA has thrown up roadblocks, as it has with SpaceX.

Share

NASA approves 2020 launch window for first Dream Chaser flight

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada has gotten the okay from NASA to aim for a 2020 launch window for the first flight of its reusable Dream Chaser mini-shuttle.

SNC announced Feb. 7 that it had received “authority to proceed” on that mission using the company’s Dream Chaser vehicle. The mission will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket in late 2020. The mission is the first of six in the company’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) 2 contract it won in 2016 to transport cargo to and from the ISS. SNC received a CRS-2 contract along with current CRS providers Orbital ATK and SpaceX.

“While we won the contract a couple of years ago, the contract still needed to be validated by a task order,” said Mark Sirangelo, executive vice president of SNC’s Space Systems business area, in a Feb. 7 speech at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Commercial Space Transportation Conference here. That order, he said, is the “biggest step” to date on the program. That flight will be a “full scale, fully operational mission,” he said, even though it will represent the first orbital flight of the Dream Chaser. Orbital ATK and SpaceX, who developed their Cygnus and Dragon spacecraft, respectively, under earlier NASA Space Act Agreements, flew demonstration missions before starting their operational CRS cargo flights.

Do not be surprised if this flight does not launch on schedule. I fully expect that development will push it back into 2021, a delay that would not be unreasonable.

Share

Sierra Nevada declares Dream Chaser glide test a success

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada has declared Sunday’s glide test of its Dream Chaser engineering prototype a success.

I have embedded a video of the flight below the fold. It is especially fascinating to watch the vehicle make small maneuvers as it begins its runway appoach.

» Read more

Share

Dream Chaser test vehicle flies again!

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser test vehicle today completed its second glide test, the first since 2013, successfully gliding to a perfect landing after being dropped from a helicopter at an altitude of 10,000 feet.

Unlike the 2013 glide test, the landing gear worked perfectly. With two such tests under their belt, the company I think has demonstrated that the spacecraft will be able to execute a landing. Next comes the building and test flight of the actual spacecraft.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share
1 2 3 4