Following an invitation from John Roth, Vice President, Business Development, I visited Sierra Nevada Corporation Space Systems (http://www.sncspace.com/) in Louisville, Colorado and had the chance to see its Dream Chaser at close range.
Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) is not a newcomer to the aerospace sector. The company has been around since 1963. In 1994 SNC was bought by Faith Ozmen (who joined SNBC as an intern in 1981) and his wife Eren Ozmen, both Turkish-born nationals. They have since then been the sole owners of SNC; on this account, SNC is one of the top woman-owned Federal government contractors.
SNC employs over 3000 people (of which roughly 10% work in Space Systems) and has a record of continuously generating profit. Average annual growth is at 25% over the last five years.
Space Systems is only one of six main areas of activity of SNC, but perhaps the one that has given SNC its highest public profile. While SNC Space Systems is best known for the development of its reusable spacecraft, the Dream Chaser, it has a 25-year long record of involvement in multiple space missions and projects. John Roth pointed out that, on average, the company is involved in one way or another in one space launch every three weeks and its technology has travelled as far as Pluto (as part of the New Horizons Mission).
Mr Roth proudly spoke of the Dream Chaser, which is the only space transportation system currently under development in the US capable of runway landing – at any airport in the word, he underlines. The Dream Chaser has a number of unique features, including its non-toxic propulsion allowing launch abort, orbital translations, attitude control and deorbit manoeuvres. It has been designed to be launched by a number of launchers, which may include the future Ariane 6.
SNC was unsuccessful in its bid under NASA’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability but was awarded one of NASA’s Commercial Resupply Cargo contracts. The cargo version of the Dream Chaser will be able to transport up to 5,500 kg of pressurised and unpressurised cargo.
The next test flight is scheduled for later this year and the first possible mission could take place in 2019. Though focus now is getting the Dream Chaser ready for its cargo mission, SNC Space Systems continues to work on the crew version of the Dream Chaser, as NASA’s Contract for Commercial Crew Integrated Capabilities granted in 2012 is still on going and includes additional tests in 2017.
John Roth explained that international collaboration and, in particular, collaboration with European partners, is critical to SNC development strategy. One example of this collaboration is the Dream Chaser for European Unitisation Program (DC4EU). In response to an ESA 2015 call for proposals, a consortium including SNC, Telespazio and OHB was granted support to assess the feasibility and commercial viability of using the Dream Chaser to provide affordable, independent European access to low-Earth orbit (LEO).