By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor
At a press conference this morning, Sierra Nevada Corporation announced that it has formed a partnership with Lockheed Martin to help certify and manufacture its Dream Chaser space shuttle.
“With today’s announcement we’ve added another best of the best to the team,” said SNC’s Mark Sirangelo in announcing the multi-million dollar deal, which will leverage Lockheed Martin’s expertise in building NASA’s Orion deep space vehicle, developing and manufacturing aircraft, and working with composite materials.
Sirangelo said the contract was competitively bid and that Sierra Nevada received multiple proposals. Sierra Nevada has just kicked off the certification program for Dream Chaser, which is being developed under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA has awarded $10 million to Sierra Nevada to cover the certification work, some of which will be performed by Lockheed Martin under contract.
Sierra Nevada is competing with Boeing and SpaceX for NASA agreements to carry crew and cargo to the International Space Station. The space agency expects to select at least two companies to begin performing the work no later than 2017.
Sierra Nevada officials also announced that an engineering model of the Dream Chaser would be shipped to NASA Dryden Flight Research Center in California in about two weeks for a series of unmanned flight tests expected to begin in six to eight weeks from now.
The vehicle will be dropped from 12,000 feet from a helicopter and make a runway landing at Edwards Air Force Base. Officials said three to six autonomous flight tests will be required to obtain the required data on the vehicles handling characteristics at low altitude. The vehicle will reach a speed of 300 knots before landing at about 180 knots.
NASA’s space shuttle Enterprise flew similar approach and landing tests at Edwards in 1977. Dream Chaser is designed as a successor to the shuttle, with the same crew complement of seven but without the large vehicle’s massive cargo bay.
The Lockheed announcement is good news not only for Colorado, where both companies are located, but for NASA’s Michoud facility in New Orleans, where Dream Chaser work will be done. Lockheed Martin built 135 external tanks for the space shuttle program at Michoud.