ESA Outlines Cooperation With Sierra Nevada on Dream Chaser

Dream Chaser (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation)
Dream Chaser (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation)

Ahead of a scheduled press conference later this morning, ESA has issued a press release providing a few more details on its cooperation with Sierra Nevada Corporation on the Dream Chaser shuttle. The joint work involves “an understanding to identify areas of collaboration with European industry for developing hardware and mission concepts for the Dream Chaser orbital transportation system.”

ESA will work with Sierra Nevada Corporation to identify how European hardware, software and expertise can be used to further the capabilities of the Dream Chaserorbital crew vehicle. ESA and SNC will also study the possibilities for creating an industrial consortium including European partners to use Dream Chaser for European missions.

A major area to be explored is ESA’s International Berthing Docking Mechanism, an advanced docking system designed for use on the International Space Station that would actively capture and seal the vehicle to the orbiting station. The primary build of the system is in Belgium, Italy and Switzerland. A number of other current and developing technologies and processes will also be evaluated including, the use of ESA’s human factors expertise, simulators and cockpit displays and several other key European offerings which are of interest to SNC.

This arrangement allows ESA to prove its hardware and technology in space on a crewed spacecraft. In exchange, SNC will have its development costs and production time potentially lessened as well as benefit from the extensive experience of ESA and its industrial partners.

At the end of an initial evaluation and planning phase, which will continue through 2014, the organisations expect to continue the relationship through a long-term agreement leading to flight operations. Both entities foresee further arrangements to continue the partnership towards the potential use of Dream Chaser for European missions.

It’s not clear how much money ESA is putting into the study, or whether it is being done on a non-exchange of funds arrangement similar to way certain NASA Space Act Agreements are pursued.

The German space agency DLR signed an agreement with OHB System AG to study use of the Dream Chaser for national missions last year. DLR officials will be at the press event as well.

I’ll be live Tweeting the press conference beginning at 11 a.m. EST @spacecom