WASHINGTON — Sierra Space has completed assembly of its first Dream Chaser vehicle as it aims for a launch of that spacecraft to the International Space Station as soon as next spring.
The company announced Nov. 2 the completion of the first Dream Chaser, named Tenacity, at its facility in Louisville, Colorado. The vehicle will be shipped in the “coming weeks” to NASA’s Neil A. Armstrong Test Facility, the former Plum Brook Facility, in Ohio for environmental testing.
In development in one form or another for well over a decade, Dream Chaser is intended to initially serve as a cargo transportation vehicle, ferrying supplies and experiments to and from the ISS. It will launch on United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket from Cape Canaveral and return to Space Florida’s Launch and Landing Facility runway at the Kennedy Space Center.
Once at NASA’s Armstrong facility, Dream Chaser will undergo environmental testing in that center’s large thermal vacuum chamber. Ken Shields, senior director business development of in-space R&D, manufacturing and emerging markets at Sierra Space, said at the American Astronautical Society’s von Braun Space Exploration Symposium Oct. 27 that he expected that those tests would be completed and Dream Chaser shipped to Cape Canaveral by the end of the year.
Sierra Space has not disclosed a target launch date for that first Dream Chaser mission, but Shields said that mission is currently planned for launch “some time in March.” That date will depend not only on the readiness of Dream Chaser itself but also the Vulcan launch vehicle. The launch will be the second flight of Vulcan, after an inaugural launch in late December of Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander.
Dream Chaser has a minimum of seven missions to the ISS under a Commercial Resupply Services 2 contract award in 2016. In addition to the cargo version of Dream Chaser, Sierra Space has plans for a crewed version, reviving the concept it previously worked on for NASA’s commercial crew program but was not selected by the agency for development in 2014. A separate version of the vehicle may also be developed for unspecified national security applications.
Dream Chaser is one of Sierra Space’s primary contributions, along with inflatable habitation modules, for the Orbital Reef commercial space station concept being developed with Blue Origin and other companies. Executives of both companies say they remain committed to work together on Orbital Reef despite reports of tensions between the two and Blue Origin shifting resources from Orbital Reef to other projects.
“Blue Origin has a heavy-lift vehicle in New Glenn. We have a transportation system for crew and cargo with Dream Chaser. We’re working together to build a space station,” Janet Kavandi, president and chief science officer of Sierra Space, said during a panel at AIAA’s ASCEND conference Oct. 24. “It’s a very complementary system. It works out really well, taking advantage of all those different capabilities.”