Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Space Systems have been selected by NASA for a contract to provide cargo delivery, return and disposal services for the International Space Station (ISS). Under a Commercial Resupply Services 2 contract (CRS2), SNC will fulfill a minimum of six cargo delivery service missions to and from the ISS through its mini-shuttle, the Dream Chaser Cargo System.
“SNC is honored to be selected by NASA for this critical U.S. program,” said SNC Chairwoman Eren Ozmen, according to the official site. “In such a major competition, we are truly humbled by the show of confidence in SNC and look forward to successfully demonstrating the extensive capabilities of the Dream Chaser spacecraft to the world. SNC’s receipt of this award is an American Dream come true for all of us.”
Other recipients of the CRS2 contract include SpaceX and Orbital ATK, who also received the first CRS awards, according to NASA’s official site. SNC competed among other companies for this award as well, and subsequently filed a complaint through the Government Accountability Office regarding the selection process when it did not receive a contract.
SNC’s Dream Chaser is unlike anything SpaceX and Orbital ATK have provided, as it is designed to land on a runway after returning from a trip to space, Science Alert reports. Dream Chaser is approximately 30 feet long with a wingspan of approximately 23 feet; reportedly, it can survive 210 days in space, though this has yet to be tested.
Some of Dream Chaser’s features include a folding-wing design that allows the spacecraft to fit inside existing launch vehicle fairings, the ability to deliver 5,500 kilograms of pressurized and unpressurized cargo to the ISS, high reusability and responsive pressurized cargo return capability, which ensures that scientific experiments are promptly returned to researchers without contamination.
The advantage Dream Chaser will bring to NASA is that it can carry cargo from the ISS to a runway on land instead of parachuting it into the ocean like SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, or burning upon re-entry like Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft. With Dream Chaser, scientists can get their data three to six hours after it has left space, allowing them to assess the biological impacts of low gravity in space.
The European Space Agency (ESA) will also cooperate with SNC, allowing European companies to provide components to Dream Chaser, BBC reports. The International Berthing and Docking Mechanism (IBDM) in particular will facilitate a sealed connection to a free port on the orbiting platform for Dream Chaser.
“We highly value our partnership with the German Aerospace Center,” said SNC’s Vice President Mark Sirangelo, according to Spaceflight Insider. “This relationship is a great example of the best-in-industry and government agency partnerships, both domestic and international, that we have sought. Our Dream Team will continue the advancement of the Dream Chaser, which is a true global program.”
Dream Chaser’s involvement in the CRS2 program will enable spacecraft reusability and runway landings for U.S. cargo delivery, and access to the ISS through 2024. The first Dream Chaser launch to the ISS is scheduled for 2019.