Sierra Nevada has enlisted Lockheed Martin to build the airframe for its second Dream Chaser winged orbital vehicle and to participate in its certification process with NASA.
"For so many years Lockheed Martin has meant so much to the aerospace industry," says Sierra Nevada vice president Mark Sirangelo. "We've been so impressed by that work and the history and work behind that. Over the last several months [Lockheed vice president] Jim Crocker and I have been working together to say, how can we really leverage that development?"
Lockheed will build the airframe at its Michaud, Louisiana facility, where NASA once built external fuel tanks for the Space Shuttle. Several other facilities, including a modeling and simulation laboratory and composite manufacturing plants will be used for various relevant components and activities.
Lockheed manufactures both satellites and launch vehicle - including the Atlas V, atop which Dream Chaser will launch -- and is slated to build the Orion crew capsule for beyond-low-Earth-orbit missions. As such the company has a large infrastructure for building and testing crewed space vehicles.
There were multiple bids for the subcontract, "but in the end there was significant advantage from Lockheed, which is why we made that choice," says Sirangelo.
The Dream Chaser is one of three spacecraft funded by NASA's commercial crew integrated capability (CCiCap) programme to develop crew transportation to the International Space Station. The other two are SpaceX's Dragon and Boeing's CST-100.
The first Dream Chaser is slated to begin flight testing within two months, comprising at least two glide flights. The spacecraft will be dropped from a helicopter at 12,000ft and land on a runway at Edwards AFB, California. The second spacecraft, for which Lockheed will build components, is slated to be the orbital test vehicle. Orbital flights are expected to begin within two years.