Plans for Dream Chaser Landings in Huntsville Move Forward

Conceptualized image of SNC’s Dream Chaser® spacecraft landing on the runway at Houston’s Ellington Field. (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala., August 23, 2017  (SNC PR) – Huntsville/Madison County is another step closer to landing a space vehicle at the Huntsville International Airport. The Airport has signed a contract to apply for licensing through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to land Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) Dream Chaser® spacecraft on one of its commercial runways. This Phase II contract follows a Phase I contract completed in 2015 that examined the compatibility of SNC’s Dream Chaser with the existing runway and taxiway environments at the Airport.

“The preliminary study proved the feasibility of landing so now we are pleased to announce that we have initiated the permitting process with the FAA,” said Rick Tucker, executive director of the Huntsville International Airport. “This is much more than an economic development project that will bring additional business to the airport and the community. This represents a shared vision of Huntsville as a leader in the commercial space economy as the first community to make a commitment to this vehicle and its role in space commerce.”

Local and State support for this project includes funding for the contracts and marketing of the community’s assets that support landing the Dream Chaser in Huntsville. Teledyne Brown Engineering serves as the prime contractor, with subcontracts to be issued to Sierra Nevada Corporation and RS&H. Partners with the Airport include the City of Huntsville, Madison County, the City of Madison, the State of Alabama, UAH and the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber.

“We’re excited to continue our progress in this community-wide effort to land the Dream Chaser in Huntsville,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “This initiative fits well with our expertise and portfolio as a hub for the fast growing commercial space industry.”

“Madison County is excited to move to the next step in bringing Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser to the Huntsville International Airport,” said Madison County Commission Chairman Dale W. Strong. “Working to secure this permit through the FAA will allow this spacecraft to return to Earth’s orbit and land at Huntsville International Airport in Madison County, Alabama, home to Marshall Space Flight Center, The University of Alabama Huntsville, and HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.”

Phase II is expected to take at least 24 months. While the permits are being sought, the partners will be working to share the capabilities of the Dream Chaser with potential users while marketing the workforce and expertise of the Huntsville region to support payload design, development, integration, operations and processing. All science payloads aboard the International Space Station are managed by Marshall Space Flight Center at the Payload Operations and Integration Center (POIC) on Redstone Arsenal. The POIC has been in 24/7 operation since 2001, with hundreds of scientific experiments being completed each year.

“We are very excited to be working with Huntsville as the first commercial airport that will apply for an FAA permit to land Dream Chaser after an orbital mission. We feel that the ability to land a space mission on a commercial runway anywhere in the world is a big advantage of our vehicle and will bring space up close and personal to thousands of people who can come out and see the landings. This will put us in the forefront of commercial space activities and it is no surprise that ‘Rocket City’ is the first to join us on that journey,” said John Roth, vice president of business development for SNC’s Space Systems business area.

“Huntsville is perfectly positioned geographically, economically and possesses an experienced workforce that is committed to making our city the key location for this significant effort,” said Jan Hess, president of Teledyne Brown Engineering. “Our company is proud to be leading an effort that showcases all that our community has to offer.”

One marketing effort underway is the Chamber’s sponsorship of a contest with the European Space Agency (ESA). With Scottish aerospace company Astrosat, the Chamber is seeking ideas for utilizing the Dream Chaser beyond cargo transport. Entries are being accepted until September 8 at The prize includes business development support from Astrosat, a visit to Huntsville/Madison County, and a year’s worth of business incubation at BizTech. The winner will be announced in October during the Space Tech Expo in Bremen, Germany, at the Huntsville/Madison County booth.

“The ESA competition has given us an international platform for sharing the space-related capabilities of Huntsville/Madison County,” said Lucia Cape, senior vice president of economic development for the Chamber. “We look forward to seeing what entrepreneurs from around the world would do with a Dream Chaser spacecraft, and we want to let them know that they can land it here.”

Sierra Nevada Corporation was awarded a cargo resupply contract with NASA in 2016. Earlier this year, SNC announced that its first two missions would be launched on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, made in Decatur, Alabama.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    I would be really interested to see how a really heavy glider is going to seamlessly fit into the National Airspace System which by and large relies on aircraft having the capability to see and avoid potential conflicts. Seems a bit much to require everyone to have to clear the area whenever a Dream Chaser plans to operate. After all, their contribution to local commerce won’t be substantially large. I favor airports with over water approaches that will lessen interference with day-to-day operations.

  • duheagle

    Shuttle landings at Edwards AFB required the Shuttle to cut right across some of the busiest North-South air routes in California. Shuttle landings at Kennedy Space Center required descent through the air route system centered on Orlando to the west. Huntsville International Airport (HSV) isn’t exactly a grass strip, quonset hut and windsock type of field, but it’s not Orlando International (MCO) either. MCO does four times as many flight ops per year and handles 70 times as many passengers. That suggests that most of HSV’s flight ops are for general aviation aircraft. I don’t think fitting in the occasional DC landing at HSV is going to be any major or unprecedented effort.

  • redneck

    One can’t help but wonder how many of these airports are getting so far ahead of the curve that they are going cross country.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Believe it or not, but we glider pilots already have right of way to land at any airfield whenever we need. We can totally cut in line. We can preempt anyone except a balloon. Class A airspace is closed to us, but for something like a dream chaser they’ll issue a NOTAM and make a hole for them to cross thru as they descend below 60k feet. As for the pattern at the class C or B airport, again, they’ll make a hole in arrivals for it. It won’t be a big deal. The real delay will come from the ground equipment needed to tow it off the runway.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    Shuttles landed extremely infrequently and were government flights so closing the surrounding airspace wasn’t much of an inconvenience. DC flights, assuming “private space” lives up to its potential, will be more frequent and commercial in nature and for the sake of other commercial and general aviation users, I would certainly hope the FAA would not be so accommodating. I’m sure they’ll work something out.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    As a general aviation (Cessna) pilot I understand that less maneuverable always has right of way over the more maneuverable aircraft. Gliders and balloons, however, are usually not permitted to operate from busy commercial airports. Assuming that DC is successful and more of them fly more frequently, they would become a regular part of the aviation landscape and subject to more stringent restriction over just when and where they could operate. Airspace closures tend to be posted well in advance and while all pilots are required to check for the latest NOTAMS, a DC coming back off-schedule could create a tremendous liability issue.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    SpaceX launches are private and they have no problem closing airspace for them. No different here. And DC flying on a 552 won’t be flying any more frequently than shuttle during hay day, most likely less.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Yes we (gliders) don’t operate from class C or B airports. However, we can, and do enter class C and technically if we run out of energy and have to land ….. I have never, nor would I ever try to enter class B in a glider. I would imagine no ATC would ever let me in if I asked. Unless I declared an emergency with intent to land at a field inside the class B. However, there are glider clubs and FBOs that operate from class D airports. It’s not our lack of maneuvering ability that gives us right of way. We can maneuver like a fighter. I spend most of my turning time with my wings banked at 50 deg or more. 60 happens a lot. And we’re fully aerobatic. What gives us our right of way is our inability to maintain a set altitude, and our inability to go around on a landing.

    I would imagine in a emergency descent that you could make arrangements to land at Edwards, or any long runway military fields. Or, if you’re really in trouble, just call “mayday” and declare an emergency and land where you need to land. Such events would be so infrequent that I doubt folks would make a big fuss unless it landed short or overly long of the runway and caused damage.

    I started flying in SEL, I love them. Heck, I co-own one. But I LOVE my gliders. It’s the kind of flying I became a pilot to do.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    When was the last time SpaceX launched through anything but a government-controlled range and over water to boot? And when was the last time SpaceX landed at an inland airport? Unless DC flies substantially more times than shuttle, they will be a commercial failure. Their Phase 2 ISS resupply contract amounts to a government-leased vehicle. When and if they launch commercial service, upkeep, cost of launch and cost of replacement will have to fall on the customers. I’m hoping commercial space blossoms enough to make it happen but the planning for a routine manned future in space seems to be lacking.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Every time SpaceX flies, or anyone else, they have to manage the airspace on the coast. The “government controlled” range is on the coast of Florida, did you think any airliners might want to fly north or south along the eastern coast by chance?

    The rest of this is response is irrelevant.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    Only less maneuverable in that SEL can create its own lift but you’re right, a glider flies like a bird.

  • therealdmt

    Unfortunately, I doubt saturation of the national airspace by DreamChasers is going to be a big problem.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Seems to me that what is needed is more launch facilities, not just morel crash sites.
    Are we really going to have all these DreamChasers being launched (on expensive expendable launchers) from the Cape and then have the added expense and inconvenience of them landing some place else for no particular reason.

  • publiusr

    Then too–a glider is the polar opposite of a lifting body.

    But–the MiG-105 did have a single turbojet, at least. Maybe a scaled up Dream Chaser/HL-42 launched atop Falcon Heavy can have a jet.