Spaceport America runway
Spaceport America's long runway could host landings of Sierra Space's Dream Chaser vehicle under an agreement the company and spaceport announced June 21. Credit: Spaceport America

WASHINGTON — Sierra Space will work with Spaceport America in New Mexico to use that commercial spaceport as a potential future landing site for the company’s Dream Chaser vehicle.

Sierra Space announced June 21 it signed a memorandum of understanding with Spaceport America to study landings of Dream Chaser vehicles at the spaceport’s 3,650-meter runway. That includes jointly working on an application to the Federal Aviation Administration for a reentry site license to allow landings there.

In a statement, Tom Vice, chief executive of Sierra Space, described the agreement as part of the company’s efforts to develop a “vibrant, growing and accessible commercial space economy” through its Dream Chaser vehicle and role in the proposed Orbital Reef commercial space station. “With that vision in mind, we are creating space-tech hubs within the commercial space ecosystem and adding Spaceport America as a prospective landing site for Dream Chaser to continue to open up affordable access to space for all.”

The former Shuttle Landing Facility runway at the Kennedy Space Center, now known as the Launch and Landing Facility and operated by Space Florida, will be the initial landing site for Dream Chaser missions transporting cargo to and from the International Space Station for NASA. However, Sierra Space has been working to expand the network of potential landing sites for Dream Chaser both within and outside of the United States.

The FAA awarded Huntsville International Airport in Alabama a reentry site license May 13 for Dream Chaser landings at that airport, which will allow up to eight landings there from 2023 through 2027. Sierra Space signed an agreement last June with Spaceport Cornwall in England to study potential Dream Chaser landings there, and a similar agreement in February for landings at Japan’s Oita Airport.

The agreement is the latest step in Spaceport America’s efforts to diversify its customer base. The state of New Mexico built the facility for Virgin Galactic, but that company’s suborbital spaceflight business has been slow to develop. The last SpaceShipTwo flight by the company there was in July 2021, with flights not expected to resume after an extended maintenance period until late this year.

Spaceport officials have been working to attract other customers to the spaceport, ranging from small launch vehicle developers to SpinLaunch, which built a scale version of its centrifugal launch system at the spaceport for suborbital tests.

“We are excited to expand the partnership and working relationship with Sierra Space,” Scott McLaughlin, executive director of Spaceport America, said in a statement. “This MOU also helps highlight the vision for Spaceport America and to help connect other users of both the spaceport and the Dream Chaser to New Mexico.”

The announcement was tied to another Spaceport America event: the Spaceport America Cup, a collegiate rocketry competition taking place this week. Sierra Space is one of the major sponsors of the event.

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...