A cargo version of Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Dream Chaser vehicle attached to the International Space Station in this illustration. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

WASHINGTON — Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC), who won one of three contracts from NASA in January to deliver cargo to the International Space Station, said July 11 that it is has completed the first milestone under that award.

The company said that NASA approved of its program integration plan for the design, development, test and evaluation of SNC’s Dream Chaser vehicle. The company did not disclose the value of any payment it received from NASA for completing the plan.

The milestone is the first in the company’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) 2 contract it received from NASA in January to transport cargo to and from the ISS. SNC was one of three companies to receive CRS-2 contracts, along with Orbital Sciences Corp. and SpaceX, who won the original CRS cargo contracts in 2008. Each company is guaranteed at least six cargo flights though the mid-2020s.

“The accelerated completion of the first milestone under the CRS-2 contract award marks significant progress for SNC and the Dream Chaser program,” Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s Space Systems division, said in a statement announcing the milestone.

The CRS-2 contract breathed new life into Dream Chaser, a lifting body design that SNC had been working on as part of NASA’s commercial crew program. The company lost to Boeing and SpaceX in a 2014 competition for contracts to complete development of those vehicles and perform initial crewed flights to the ISS. SNC filed a protest, which the U.S. Government Accountability Office denied in January 2015.

SNC still has work to complete under an earlier commercial crew award it received from NASA in 2012. Sirangelo, speaking at the Space Frontier Foundation’s NewSpace 2016 conference in Seattle June 22, said the Dream Chaser engineering test article, which SNC compares to the prototype space shuttle Enterprise, would be shipped to NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California “somewhere in the August timeframe” for a new phase of unpowered flight tests.

Those tests, which will include at least one glide test to a runway landing similar to what the test article performed in October 2013, will help test the design for the cargo version of Dream Chaser under development. “We’re testing a lot of the stuff for the orbital vehicle now,” he said. “We don’t know how many tests we’ll do, but it will be as many as we need.”

SNC is also currently building the first Dream Chaser orbital vehicle that will fly those cargo flights. The first flight of that vehicle is planned for the second half of 2019, Sirangelo said, depending on NASA’s schedule. He added he expected NASA to start making decisions on cargo mission manifests for the CRS-2 contract awardees by the end of the year.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...