WASHINGTON — After recently winning a major contract to build military satellites, Sierra Space is aiming to capture a larger share of the national security market in new sectors like in-orbit services and transportation.

Sierra Space is perhaps best known for developing Dream Chaser, a reusable spaceplane designed to ferry cargo and supplies to the International Space Station, and for partnering with Blue Origin on the construction of a commercially developed space station.

But the company also is gaining traction in the national security space business, with $1.3 billion worth of defense-related orders, Erik Daehler, Sierra Space’s vice president of orbital systems and services, told SpaceNews.

Daehler, who previously worked at defense contractors Lockheed Martin and Boeing, is overseeing the transition of Sierra Space’s orbital vehicle technologies from their civil and commercial roots into militarized configurations to support defense operations.

The company’s $1.3 billion defense backlog includes a $740 million deal announced in January to produce 18 missile-tracking satellites for the U.S. Space Force’s next-generation missile-tracking satellite network built  by the Space Development Agency.

Other orders are from undisclosed defense customers, Daehler said. “We have active contracts with major acquisition organizations.”

Opportunities in ‘SAML’

Formed in 2021 as a spinout from Sierra Nevada Corporation, Sierra Space has tried to carve out a niche as a so-called new space company that serves both commercial and government customers.

The company is eyeing the emerging market for “space access, mobility and logistics” services, known as SAML, which has $40 million earmarked for it in the Space Force’s 2025 budget proposal.

To meet the military’s anticipated need for SAML services, Sierra Space has designed a satellite equipped for precision rendezvous and close-proximity operations around other spacecraft. The company is pitching this vehicle to the Space Force as a way to provide in-orbit services like refueling and maintenance of military satellites.

Sierra Space is also developing a return capsule that can transport cargo from space and land safely back on Earth. In partnership with the U.S. Transportation Command, the company is studying how this vehicle could enable quick point-to-point delivery of supplies and equipment to support military operations or humanitarian relief efforts around the globe.

To support development of these space vehicles aimed at the defense market, Sierra Space established a specialized test lab in Florida to design, build and put the new technologies through their paces. The  company is headquartered in Louisville, Colorado.

Servicing robot

The concept for Sierra Space’s in-orbit servicing vehicle, named Spectre, arose from the need to automate maintenance functions at the International Space Station that are currently performed by astronauts or cosmonauts, work that will be taken over by robotic systems on future commercial space stations, Daehler said.

The idea of a return capsule, named Ghost, that can transport cargo from space and land safely back on Earth, came about after customers that want to operate on the future commercial space station asked for a capability to develop technology in space and send it back to the ground for tests and inspections, he said. “It’s designed for about 250 to 700 kilograms of capacity.”

Daehler said the company is planning an on-orbit demonstration of the Spectre vehicle in 2025 or 2026. “We’re offering it as a product that the U.S. government could own and operate, and we’ve also offered it to our government customers to purchase it as a service.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...