NASA and Sierra Nevada Corp. revealed Tuesday that the Dream Chaser spaceplane, a cargo spacecraft designed and operated by Nevada-based Sierra Nevada Corp., will begin launching and landing in Florida in 2022.
The unmanned, robotic spaceplane will be deployed from Kennedy Space Center on a United Launch Alliance launcher for flights to the International Space Station.
Dream Chaser will return to the space center’s former space shuttle landing strip after docking and delivering cargo.
The first Dream Chaser is being prepared for delivery to the space center next spring, Janet Kavandi, a former astronaut and an executive vice president of Sierra Nevada, said during a press conference Tuesday on the landing strip.
“When we first launch next year, 2022, at the end of that mission, we plan to come back and land here at this very runway,” Kavandi said.
On the tarmac, she was joined by Kennedy Space Center director Bob Cabana and Frank DiBello, executive director of Space Florida, the state’s space planning corporation that oversees the landing facility.
The term “space” refers to the According to DiBello, Florida has signed a lease to make use of the landing facility, and the Federal Aviation Administration has approved the spaceplane to land there.
Sierra Nevada’s plans for Kennedy, according to Cabana, demonstrate that the space centre is really a multi-user, private spaceport rather than merely a NASA station.
Sierra Nevada planned to tour the space center and adjacent Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Tuesday and Wednesday to search for a suitable building to process Dream Chaser between launches, Kavandi said.
“We’ll look first at existing facilities on government property, but we may also consider building something ourselves if needed,” she said.
She also mentioned that the organisation intends to employ hundreds of workers in the area for processing and other future engineering functions.
Sierra Nevada is one of a growing number of private space firms competing for NASA contracts. In 2014, the firm lost a bid to SpaceX and Boeing to send astronauts to the International Space Station using Dream Chaser.
SpaceX delivered on its astronaut contract for the Crew Dragon spacecraft in 2020, while Boeing is already planning a demonstration flight of the Starliner capsule later this year.
Sierra Nevada, on the other hand, has earned over $2 billion in NASA contracts to build Dream Chaser as a reusable cargo vessel. NASA will receive at least seven freight trips from the venture.
The spacecraft is just one-quarter the size of the space shuttle, measuring just 30 miles tall.
According to NASA and Sierra Nevada, the spaceplane’s potential to land at the space centre rather than splash down at sea, will result in a quicker return of research and resources from the space station.
Dream Chaser would return to Earth under its own power. Since it doesn’t carry people, no test flights beyond short drops from aircraft completed in 2013 and 2017 are required.
Prototypes were used for the test flights. The spacecraft is yet to be launched as planned on a rocket launched into orbit. The rocket in question would be ULA’s next Vulcan Centaur, which is currently in production.
Sierra Nevada executives have stated that they think Dream Chaser will be able to transport people someday and that it will be more accessible to space tourists. This is due to the fact that it looks like a jet and does not land with a jolt under parachutes like a space capsule.
Sierra Nevada intends to deploy and build its own orbital habitat in space until NASA retires the space station in 2028.
The company’s orbital space station is yet to be named, but it will be made up of inflatable parts linked by hardware, according to Kavandi during a press conference in March.
“We plan to launch our vehicles to a platform with inflatable modules where both uncrewed and crewed vehicles take people and cargo … and then return safely to Earth,” Kavandi said.
Sierra Nevada has retained various contracts with NASA and other space organisations since its inception in 1963.
Since Turkish American businesspeople Eren and Fatih Ozmen bought it in 1994, the company has expanded. Eren Ozmen serves as chairwoman and president, and Fatih Ozmen serves as CEO.