Sierra Space completes the first Dream Chaser

WASHINGTON — Sierra Space has finished assembling its first Dream Chaser vehicle as it aims to launch the spacecraft to the International Space Station as soon as next spring.

The company announced Nov. 2 the completion of the first Dream Chaser, called Tenacity, at its facility in Louisville, Colorado. The vehicle will be sent “in the coming weeks” to NASA’s Neil A. Armstrong Test Facility, formerly the Plum Brook Facility, in Ohio for environmental testing.

Somewhat in development for more than a decade, the Dream Chaser was originally intended to serve as a cargo transport vehicle, transporting supplies and testing to and from the ISS. It will launch on a United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur rocket from Cape Canaveral and return to the runway of Space Florida’s Launch and Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center.

Once at NASA’s Armstrong Space Center, Dream Chaser will undergo environmental testing in the facility’s large thermal vacuum chamber. Ken Shields, senior director of business development for in-space R&D, manufacturing and emerging markets at Sierra Space, at the American Astronautical Society’s von Braun Space Exploration Symposium Oct. 27 that he expects those trials to be completed and the Dream Chaser sent to Cape Town. Canaveral at the end of the year.

Sierra Space did not disclose a target launch date for that first Dream Chaser mission, but Shields said the mission is currently scheduled to launch “sometime in March.” That date will depend not only on the readiness of the Dream Chaser itself but also the Vulcan launch vehicle. The launch will be Vulcan’s second flight, following the launch in late December of Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander.

Dream Chaser has at least seven missions to the ISS under the Commercial Resupply Services 2 contract award in 2016. In addition to the cargo version of the Dream Chaser, Sierra Space has plans for a crew version, reviving a concept previously worked on by NASA. program for commercial workers but was not selected by the agency for development in 2014. A different version of the vehicle may also be developed for unspecified national security applications.

The Dream Chaser is one of Sierra Space’s main offerings, along with low-cost habitat modules, for the Orbital Reef commercial space station concept being developed with Blue Origin and other companies. Executives from both companies say they remain committed to working together on Orbital Reef despite reports of friction between the two and Blue Origin diverting resources from Orbital Reef to other projects.

“Blue Origin has a heavy-duty vehicle at New Glenn. We have a transportation system for personnel and equipment with Dream Chaser. We’re working together to build a space station,” Janet Kavandi, president and chief science officer of Sierra Space, said during a panel at AIAA’s ASCEND conference Oct. 24. “It is a very coherent system. It works really well, it uses all those different skills. “