WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin Space Systems will help Sierra Nevada Space Systems with design, development and certification of the Louisville, Colo., company’s Dream Chaser spaceplane, one of the three astronaut taxi designs NASA is funding under a program to restore independent U.S. crew transportation to the international space station by 2017.

Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed. However, Mark Sirangelo, executive vice president of Sierra Nevada Space Systems, said during a Jan. 30 press briefing that Lockheed will act as a subcontractor under Sierra Nevada’s two NASA commercial crew contracts: the $212.5 million Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) Space Act Agreement awarded in August, and the $10 million Certification Products Contract (CPC) awarded in December. Space Exploration Technologies Corp. of Hawthorne, Calif., and Boeing Space Exploration of Houston are the other two companies working on crewed systems under CCiCap, which is worth a total of $1.1 billion over a 21-month base period.

Sierra Nevada’s CCiCap deal is the smallest of the three Space Act Agreements NASA awarded, and the only one not aimed at bringing the company’s vehicle to a critical design review by the end of the base period in May 2014.

Lockheed’s design and development work as a Sierra Nevada CCiCap subcontractor “is going to be done to advance the build of our next [Dream Chaser] airframe,” Sirangelo said at the press briefing held at the company’s Louisville headquarters.

Lockheed will do that work in facilities across the country, including NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, where the external tanks for the space shuttle program were built. “We’re leveraging our fifth-generation fighter, the Joint Strike Fighter, and the F-22 composites that we will be using as a basis for Dream Chaser,” Jim Crocker, vice president and general manager for civil space at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, said at the briefing.

Lockheed’s work as a Sierra Nevada CPC subcontractor, meanwhile, is set to begin Jan. 30, Sirangelo said during the briefing. CPC contracts, which NASA awarded to all three of its CCiCap partners in December, will be used to certify that the space transportation systems these companies design are safe for astronauts. NASA has said it cannot perform such certification activities under a Space Act Agreement.

For the CPC work, Lockheed will “have dozens of people who will be helping to make sure that [everything] from ground flight software up to [the] vehicles are the safest we can fly,” Crocker said.

NASA currently relies on Russia for astronaut transportation to the international space station. With the space shuttle fleet retired since 2011, Russia’s Soyuz space capsule is now the only system capable of flying crews to the orbital outpost.

Meanwhile, Sierra Nevada is preparing a full-scale engineering mockup of Dream Chaser for a test flight at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Under the terms of Sierra Nevada’s CCiCap agreement, this test is expected to be completed in April.

“We’re going to do a lot of testing,” former astronaut Jim Voss, director of advanced programs and program executive for Dream Chaser, said Jan. 30. “It’ll all culminate with a flight test in about six to eight weeks. We’ll be shipping in about two weeks and we’ll have about a month for further testing, and then we’ll fly our first of a series of flight tests at the Edwards Air Force Base, where the vehicle will be released from a helicopter and it will fly down and land autonomously on the runway.”

The goal of this test is to gather aerodynamic data, Voss said. Dream Chaser will drop from an altitude of about 4 kilometers and come in for a runway landing, traveling at a speed of about 333 kilometers per hour at touchdown.



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Dan Leone is the NASA reporter for SpaceNews, where he also covers other civilian-run U.S. government space programs and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He joined SpaceNews in 2011.Dan earned a bachelor's degree in public communications...