Sierra Nevada moves towards Dream Chaser flights, expands aviation business

During the International Paris Air Show, being held in Le Bourget on June 15-21, 2015, US-based Sierra Nevada Corporation made some business expansion announcements.

On Monday, June 15, a coalition that includes cities of Huntsville and Madison, Teledyne-Brown Engineering, State of Alabama, University of Alabama, and Huntsville-Madison County Airport Authority announced plans to initiate a series of preliminary studies to assess the feasibility of landing of Sierra Nevada Corporation's (SNC) Dream Chaser spacecraft at Huntsville International Airport.

Official announcement of cooperation with Sierra Nevada Corp. at the Paris Air Show
Preview 5580ad5053706105e2010000

These preliminary studies will assess environmental factors such as airspace, traffic flow, potential impacts to air traffic and the compatibility of Dream Chaser with the existing runway. If such assessments are successful, a second phase of work may begin in late 2015, which could result in the issuance of a re-entry license from the Federal Aviation Administration to land the spacecraft in Huntsville. The first studies will be performed by Teledyne Brown Engineering, with support from RS&H Aerospace and Morell Engineering.

SNC's Dream Chaser spacecraft is a multi-mission-capable space vehicle able to flexibly operate as an independent science platform, logistics enabler or orbital servicing vehicle. While SNC is currently competing for NASA's Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract (along with CRS-1 awardees SpaceX and Orbital ATK, as well as Lockheed Martin and Boeing) to supply cargo to the International Space Station, it also plans to operate the vehicle on other missions, tailored to a variety of US and international customers.

“This announcement underscores aerospace capabilities that exist in Huntsville and across Madison County. Alabama continues to lead the country in space from Atlas V launch vehicles built [at United Launch Alliance’s factory] in Decatur, to people and facilities in the area, and at the Marshall Space Flight Center. These studies being initiated with SNC once again prove that this region is an asset to the country.” Senator Richard Shelby (Alabama)

According to John Roth, Vice President for Business Development at SNC Space Systems, Dream Chaser will be ready for the first flight under CRS-2, provided SNC wins the contract from NASA, in 2018. Although a launcher that will carry the spacecraft has not been decided yet, it could be an Atlas V or Ariane 5, Falcon 9 or other available at that moment booster.

Dream Chaser mission profile reminds that of Space Shuttle. It launches vertically atop a rocket, and lands horizontally on any runway able to accommodate a Boeing 737 or Airbus 320 class aircraft. Use of non-toxic propellants combined with an innovative concept of operations allows immediate access to payloads and crew upon landing. In addition, Dream Chaser can be easily transported from landing site to launch site using a variety of standard cargo aircraft.

Dream Chaser artist concept. Credit: NASA
Preview 5580b39453706105e2060000

It is to remind that SNC announced plans to take part in CRS-2 program after unsuccessful bid for the 5th Initiative under Commercial Crew Development program – Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap). NASA has chosen SpaceX and Boeing to continue development of a new American crew transportation means, leaving SNC with partially developed spacecraft, more than $360 million invested funds into its creation, and 'motivation to work harder in order to achieve success'.

In a short interview to SpaceDigest John Roth also told about SNC's satellite production business, admitting its good shape and growing expectations. According to him, the nearest milestone is awaited for 3rd quarter of 2015, when Falcon 9 is slated to launch 11 second-generation communications satellites of Orbcomm, all built by SNC. The first batch of Orbcomm Generation 2 (OG2) satellites, consisting of 6 spacecraft, was launched atop Falcon 9 in July 2014.

Orbcomm OG2 spacecraft. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.
Preview 5580b39453706105e2080000

In a day, on Tuesday, June 16, SNC announced formation of its new wholly-owned subsidiary, TRJet Havacilik Teknolojileri Anonim Şirketi (TRJet) of Turkey The company will be based in Ankara, Turkey, and will serve the Regional Aircraft Project as well as the commercial aviation sector. Newly launched Regional Aircraft Project utilizes TRJ328 aircraft, a modernized version of Dornier 328 (D328), as the first step toward production of Turkey's first domestically-built passenger aircraft, TRJ628.

TRJet will combine legacy of two esteemed aviation companies, SNC and 328 Support Services GmbH (328 SSG) of Germany, to create an aviation and aerospace company that merges modern-edge German aircraft engineering and the latest industry modification standards.

P.S. NASA's Commercial Crew Program blog informed on June 19 that Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser engineering test article was being prepped for its second free-flight test at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center later this year, which would be a milestone under NASA's Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement with SNC. Wings, windows and landing gear of Dream Chaser are installed, as well as vehicle's nose skid with thermal protection system tiles, manufactured at Kennedy Space Center.

Dream Chaser vehicle. Credit: NASA
Preview 5587199c53706105e2110000
Next article Astroscale presents its space debris removal system at the Paris Air Show Previous article Space-related exhibits and products to look for at the International Paris Air Show