Sierra Nevada: “Excellent” Progress on Dream Chaser

Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser - a seven-person space shuttle designed for orbital flight.

Sierra Nevada Corporation says it is making “excellent progress” on efforts to develop its Dream Chaser orbital vehicle, according to a report on the Recovery.gov website.

The Nevada-based company received $20 million from NASA earlier this year to fund work on the spacecraft, which would be used to ferry crew to and from the International Space Station. The grant was one of five awards made under NASA’s Commercial Crew Development program. NASA has not committed to any one technology.

An interesting aspect of this grant is that it funds propulsion module test firings. Sierra Nevada is using the same propulsion system for Dream Chaser as it is for the SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism vehicle, which is being built by Scaled Composites for Virgin Galactic.

Development of the hybrid propulsion engine for SSTwo has been reportedly slow and problem plagued, so the NASA funding probably helps a lot. If they do get it to work, Richard Branson can credit NASA with an assist.

Excerpts from the progress report follow. This update covers progress through the end of June.

Grant Summary

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) is partnering with NASA to advance the development of a commercial crew space transportation system as part of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program. CCDEv is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 which is an economic stimulus to aid private sector efforts to develop and demonstrate human spaceflight capabilities.

SNC was provided a $20,000,000 award on February 19th, 2010 to begin their CCDev program activities. SNC’s development is based on the Dream Chaser spacecraft. SNC will be using this initial funding to further the development of the Dream Chaser craft and carry out risk reduction activities.

SNC will be partnering with several leading aerospace companies on this effort including Boeing, United Launch Alliance, and Draper Laboratories. SNC has four milestones that are tied to the CCDev funding:

  • Milestone 1 – Program Implementation Plan Review.
  • Milestone 2 – Manufacturing Readiness Review of Aeroshell Tooling.
  • Milestone 3 – Space Vehicle Propulsion Module Test Firings.
  • Milestone 4 – Dream Chaser Engineering Test Article Primary Structure Load Proof Testing.

In addition to these four milestones, SNC will be supporting these additional activities on this award:

a.) Requirements definition for Dream Chaser systems design & major subsystems.

b.) Build & Test Spacecraft Primary Structure.

c.) Integrated Loads Definition & CFD.

d.) Main Propulsion Motor Build & Test.

e.) RCS Thruster Prototype Build & Test.

f.) Develop Atmospheric and Orbital GN&C architecture.

g.) Flight Algorithms & Software Assurance Plan.

h.) TPS Trades.

i.) Atlas V Integration analysis.

j.) Wind Tunnel Model Build

Quarterly Activities/Project Description

The Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program continued to make excellent progress per plan during the 2nd quarter of 2010. In the month of April, SNC traveled to NASA Langley for an Avionics summit. Team members from Boeing, Draper Laboratories, and Langley Research Center attended. The purpose of this summit was to finalize the trade study of the avionics architecture. Modifications to SNC’s Louisville, CO facility were completed and the CCDev team moved into a dedicated office space. Newly hired engineering personnel came up to speed and began actively contributing to accomplishing the program objectives.

In the month of May, a preliminary design review for the Dream Chaser spacecraft structure was conducted at our Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) facility in Centennial, Colorado with team members from Straightflight and Adamworks attending.

In the month of June, a human rating Technical Interchange Meeting (TIM) was conducted at SNC’s Louisville facility. This TIM included members from SNC’s CCDev partners, NASA agencies, and industry representatives. Also in June, SNC successfully conducted and completed the Milestone 2 Manufacturing Readiness Review for the aeroshell tooling. This meeting was conducted and SNC’s ISR facility with several NASA representatives in attendance. All aeroshell tooling including the lower and upper aeroshell tooling was completed in June. Fabrication for the pressure vessel and bulkhead tooling was also started in June.

Progress Status: Less than 50% completed

Jobs Created: 67.70