As Commercial Space Race Intensifies, SpaceX, Virgin Find They Have Company
Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser spacecraft team held its Program Implementation Plan Review in Colorado this week, the first milestone in its CCiCap list. CCiCap is phase 3 of NASA’s Commercial Crew vehicle development program, intended to foster commercial rides to the International Space Station for NASA astronauts. Passing that first milestone was worth $30M to Sierra Nevada. It advances the company toward the first drop test and free flight of the Dream Chaser Engineering Test Article, a version of the craft specifically built for testing, in November.
According to NASA’s Dream Chaser technical manager, Cheryl McPhillips, Sierra Nevada has two safety review milestones coming as part of its CCiCap program, then an integrated system baseline review, then ultimately a critical design review toward the end of the program. Sierra Nevada also has optional milestones, but they were redacted in the information released thus far.
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden has said that the program set out for Sierra Nevada, as a winner of a partial funding allocation in this phase of Commercial Crew, attempts to retire all of Dream Chaser’s technical risk. Presumably that strategy will make it much easier later on for the company to quickly complete the vehicle and use it to bid on crew transportation to and from the International Space Station.
Returning to orbit
SpaceX completed its COTS (Commercial Orbital Transport Services) agreement this week with a certification from NASA, clearing the way for SPX-1, its first standard cargo flight to the International Space Station (the earlier flight was a test loaded with non-critical supplies). SpaceX Cargo Resupply Services flights, at $133M, will cost far less than deliveries launched by Russia, Japan, or the European Space Agency.