Sierra Nevada Teams with ORBITEC, Aerojet Rocketdyne on NextSTEP-2 Habitat Work

Concept image of Sierra Nevada Corporation's habitation prototype, based on its Dream Chaser cargo module. (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation)
Concept image of Sierra Nevada Corporation’s habitation prototype, based on its Dream Chaser cargo module. (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation)

SPARKS, Nev. (SNC PR) – Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has been selected to develop a deep space, long-duration, human habitat design and prototype for NASA. The partnership, under NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships-2 (NextSTEP-2) Broad Agency Announcement, Appendix A, will allow SNC and its partners to use their experience to design a complete habitat system architecture and build a full-scale prototype for testing and evaluation.

NASA’s NextSTEP-2 public-private partnerships support the journey to Mars, as well as the commercial development of low-Earth orbit (LEO) space by focusing on sustainable human habitats for long-duration spaceflight missions.

Advancing Deep Space Missions

SNC’s concept is based on multiple modular components, leveraging both SNC’s internal expertise and external partners to create the most capable habitat. “This program is a perfect opportunity to showcase the heritage of our 25 plus years supporting space missions,” said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s Space Systems business area. “This habitat will combine our experience in space technologies, satellite systems, propulsion and environmental control systems from our subsidiary ORBITEC, as well as our work with the Dream Chaser® spacecraft under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) and Cargo Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract to support the International Space Station. The NextSTEP-2 habitat elevates our role as a prime integrator in the design of effective and efficient deep space habitats.”

Key Habitat Design Elements

The basis of SNC’s design stems from the Dream Chaser Cargo Module being developed for NASA CRS-2 missions. The Dream Chaser spacecraft will return home after LEO missions but the Cargo Module will remain on-orbit to be integrated with other components, including an advanced electric propulsion module for transferring the system to lunar orbit.

The project details will depend on final contract negotiations, however SNC’s proposed habitat design also includes:

  • Significant pressurized volume for long-duration human activity
  • Docking capability compatible with NASA’s Orion spacecraft, as well as other systems
  • Environmental control and life support systems
  • Airlocks for astronaut Extravehicular Activities (EVA)
  • Crew health monitoring and support systems
  • Propulsion systems for transport and maneuverability

SNC’s wholly owned subsidiary, Orbital Technologies Corporation (ORBITEC) was selected as a part of the first NextSTEP awards in 2015 for the development and demonstration of hybrid life support systems, including in-space food growth. ORBITEC’s strong knowledge of environmental control and BioProduction systems will be crucial in creating a viable long-term habitat and will help overcome sustainability obstacles. SNC is also teaming with Aerojet Rocketdyne to integrate its PowerTrainTM Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) system designed to deliver power from the solar arrays to the thrusters on spacecraft, as well as NASA Langley Research Center to utilize its radiation analysis systems and airlock technology.

For more information on SNC visit and follow us at and Twitter @SierraNevCorp.

  • Is that conical thing the Dream Chaser “cargo module” (service module I guess)? Those look… weird. Then, they still bolt on what looks like a Bigelow or other inflatable for the real volume? While I think it’s cool that SNC is proposing something based on their hardware, if I were on the selection board, I’d reject it on aesthetic grounds alone. Those cones intersecting each other and total lack of symmetry… it’s ugly.

    Remember Boeing’s X-32 vs Lockheed’s F-35? I could tell you who would win just by looking at them. Don’t build ugly airplanes, don’t build ugly space stations.

  • P.K. Sink

    That monstrosity does give off a certain Frankenstein vibe, doesn’t it. And I wonder…if they’re going to add SEP…what exactly does the cargo module bring to the party?

  • The only thing I can think of is that is how they build it. They do 3 Dream Chaser launches with extra big solar arrays on the modified SMs to LEO,
    Daisy chain a few of them together, add the Bigelow habitat. Move the hardware/cargo from the Dreamchaser to the Bigelow module, bolt on the SEP unit and then SLOWLY move it to Lunar orbit.

    While the idea is straightforward and quite sound, the result is ugly as sin.

  • P.K. Sink

    That makes sense. I guess that they would have to do all this in orbit, away from ISS. A nice spacedock would come in handy.

  • It would be nice, but I don’t know if a 24th century comparison is fair as we’re only at the very beginning of the 21st! :p

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Why can’t space stations be ugly? Isn’t the ISS ugly? To be fair, they’re not really conveying utility and cost efficiency all that well. A 2001 spinning ring station would be nice, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

  • Space stations can be ugly (and I certainly have found the “beauty” of things when I’ve understood how form followed function). But, if we are going to build multi-billion dollar things, can’t they look good/cool? I’ve been reading some of the literature on space architecture recently and there’s definitely some interesting things to learn and do.

    PS while the ISS is not super beautiful, I do like its symmetry with the solar panels that rotate round and round.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “..can’t they look good/cool?”
    Certainly would be nice.

    “…I do like its symmetry with the solar panels…”
    Not sure how symmetrical ISS is, but you raise a good point. How come ISS needs gazillions of solar panels whilst all these artists mock-ups get away with a couple of token handkerchiefs – BA330 being a case in point.

  • I’m not a power systems engineer, but from what I understand, solar cells have gotten significantly more efficient in the intervening years. From what they say, the ISS would need only about 1/3 to 1/2 of the real estate of the current panels to generate the same power. Which is awesome because we can have proper spaceships and finally get away from those annoying fuel cells that require H2 and O2 supplies.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    1/2 to 1/3 represents a significant improvement in panel efficiency, but I am still not satisfied with the honesty of most of the hab images we are fed – the image on this article is perhaps a notable exception.
    I think fuel cells infected energy thinkers minds, and in some cases continues to do so, before the considerable and ongoing improvements in lithium-ion.

  • therealdmt

    X-32 — Man, that was fugly.

  • Terry Stetler

    What’s this SNC “teaming with” ORBITEC? They acquired ORBITEC in 2014.

  • Kapitalist

    They shouldn’t have hired a labyrinth architect.
    It isn’t only ugly, it must be impractical to live and work in a crooked corridor (although bureaucrats don’t seem to mind). Our aesthetics is often an intuition for what is practical. It looks as if the priority here is ease of assembly, which one can understand given the challenging construction site. But maybe time has matured space station building to move a step beyond the 1971 Salyut type of architecture. Almost all dockings have been successful, that limit could be pushed a bit.

  • You think the USAF has problem with pilot recruitment now? See what it is when your frontline fighter is modeled after a feeding pelican!