Tag Archives: Sierra Nevada Corp

Image: Sierra Nevada Corp.

NASA awards ISS cargo duties to a third private corp that uses a mini-shuttle

There’s a now a third private space entity that’s been screened and granted permission to ferry cargo to and fro the International Space Station. Joining SpaceX and Orbital will be the Sierra Nevada Corp. which plans to use a reusable winged craft that looks like a mini-shuttle. The design allows for a soft landing on a runway, instead of dropping the ocean, that might prove more effective for retrieving sensitive scientific instruments.

The space company worth billions you likely never heard about

Image: Sierra Nevada Corp.

Image: Sierra Nevada Corp.

In 2008, anticipating the impending decommissioning of the space shuttle, NASA awarded the first commercial space contract worth $3 bn. In 2012, a year after the shuttle was retired, SpaceX flew the first International Space Station re-supply mission. Orbital with its  Cygnus cargo spacecraft was also included in the program.

After it lost a very important bid to SpaceX and Boeing to transport astronauts to the ISS, Sierra Nevada Corp. finally hit the jackpot.

“Within a few short years, the world will once again see a United States winged vehicle launch and return from space to a runway landing,” Mark Sirangelo, vice president of Sierra Nevada’s space systems, said in a statement.

Artist impression of the Dream Chaser docked with the ISS. Image: Sierra Nevada Corp.

Artist impression of the Dream Chaser docked with the ISS. Image: Sierra Nevada Corp.

The fact that the company’s  Dream Chaser craft looks nothing like the capsules used by its competitors must have won it some points from NASA. It’s unique because it can land on a  traditional airline runway, instead of crashing in the ocean or burning on re-entry. This is very important as right now it will be the only company that will be able to perform certain missions with success — those that involve the retrieval of sensitive experiments. Biologists, most of all, will rejoice.

“There are a lot of reasons to use animal studies to look at things like balance and sensory motor effects (of microgravity), and those are going to change so rapidly on return that we need to have the animals back right away,” station chief scientist Julie Robinson told Reuters.

NASA declined to comment on the total cost of the three contracts, which will see a minimum of six flights by each of the three companies. The total budget was $14 billion, but Sirangelo said it will come nowhere near the cited maximum value of the contract. “Within a few short years, the world will once again see a United States winged vehicle launch and return from space to a runway landing,” he says.



NASA funds commercial space taxi development worth $269 million

NASAAs the last two shuttle flights will mark the end of a thirty year long program, NASA is looking for alternatives to transport astronauts, cargo and equipment to and from outer space. The best alternative seems to come from the private sectore, and with this in mind NASA has awarded a total $269 million dived among several top aeronautical companies to help speed development of commercial spaceships.

The largest grant went to Boeing worth $92.3 million, which is currently under contract with NASA to develop the  CST-100, a spaceship slated to carry a crew of seven in a low orbit over the earth Boeing officials said they would apply what they’ve learned from building commercial airplanes, satellites and launch systems to build and fly the CST-100 in 2015.

Sierra Nevada Corp got $80 million, while  Space Exploration Technology (SpaceX), the privately held company founded by Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk, was awarded $75 million. The money will be put to good use by SpaceX by all odds, considering only a few weeks ago the company announced that their currently developing the world’s most powerful rocket. Blue Origin, another company founded by an internet entrepreneur Amazon’s  Jeff Bezos, received a contract worth $22 million.

For NASA it’s imperative to develop a space taxi solution as soon as possible, not only because of obvious logistics consideration but also financially-wise. Currently, NASA has already a lot of flights outsourced to Russia who charge $51 million per person, price expected to rise to $63 per person by 2014.

“We’re committed to safely transporting U.S. astronauts on American-made spacecraft and ending the outsourcing of this work to foreign governments,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement.

“These agreements are significant milestones in NASA’s plans to take advantage of American ingenuity to get to low-Earth orbit so we can concentrate our resources on deep space exploration.”

The agreement covers work for about 14 months. NASA hopes to follow the program with another competition to develop an actual flight system. The goal is for NASA to be able to buy commercial orbital space transportation services by about 2015.