NASA adds third company as space station shipper; shuttle back (Update)

January 14, 2016 byMarcia Dunn
NASA adds third company as space station shipper; shuttle back (Update)
In this June 27, 2013 photo provided by NASA, Sierra Nevada Corp. engineers and technicians prepare the Dream Chaser engineering test vehicle for tow tests at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in California. On Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, NASA announced the Sierra Nevada Corp. will join SpaceX and Orbital ATK in launching cargo to the International Space Station. These flights, yet to be finalized, will run through 2024. (Ken Ulbrich/NASA via AP)

NASA is adding a third company to its short list of space station suppliers, a Nevada business that will bring back a mini version of the shuttle.

On Thursday, NASA announced Sierra Nevada Corp. will join SpaceX and Orbital ATK in launching cargo to the International Space Station. These flights will begin in 2019 and run through 2024.

This marks a second chance for Sierra Nevada. It competed for NASA's commercial crew contract, but lost out in 2014 to SpaceX and Boeing in a bid to ferry astronauts.

The Sparks, Nevada-based company is developing a scaled-down shuttle called Dream Chaser to haul cargo. The other companies use standard-shaped capsules.

Like SpaceX, Sierra Nevada plans to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The spacecraft will be able to land back on Earth, like the shuttle, and bring back science experiments and other items from the station.

"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.

  NASA's space station program manager, Kirk Shireman, said he's been assured that the Dream Chaser could touch down on lots of runways—in lots of places. The goal is to retrieve science samples, though, as quickly as possible for analysis. A runway touchdown would be gentler than the ocean parachute drop used by SpaceX.

NASA adds third company as space station shipper; shuttle back (Update)
In this Aug. 22, 2013 photo provided by NASA, Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser engineering test spacecraft is suspended from a cable from a large helicopter during a test at the NASA Dryden site in California. On Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, Nasa announced the Sierra Nevada Corp. will join SpaceX and Orbital ATK in launching cargo to the International Space Station. These flights, yet to be finalized, will run through 2024. (Carla Thomas/NASA via AP)

"The air traffic controllers would hate us landing" at Washington Dulles International or other major airports, Shireman said. "Most likely, we'll land in Florida, right close to where our facilities are."

Now, only SpaceX can return goods. In its latest proposal, SpaceX has offered to return its Dragon capsules to land as well, Shireman said. Other cargo ships, including Orbital's Cygnus and Russia's Progress, are filled with trash and burn up on re-entry.

Recent launch accidents by SpaceX and Orbital prompted NASA to pick a third vendor, for increased flexibility.

Orbital launched from Wallops Island, Virginia, until a launch explosion in 2014. It's using another company's rocket, the Atlas V in Cape Canaveral, until its own Antares rocket is ready to fly later this year from Wallops. SpaceX experienced its own launch failure last summer; it hopes to resume supply runs for NASA in the next month or so.

NASA awarded its first commercial resupply contracts in 2008, anticipating the pending retirement of its space shuttles. The first commercial cargo flight, by SpaceX, was in 2012, a year after the last shuttle mission. The latest contract calls for a minimum of six flights by each of the three companies.

Shireman anticipates four commercial supply runs a year, once flights kick in under the new contracts.

The original contracts exceeded $3 billion. Shireman declined to put a cost on this second round, noting it would come nowhere near the $14 billion maximum value cited in the procurement papers.

Many details, in fact, will have to wait, Shireman stressed. He would not comment on Boeing's departure from the competition last year, or other contenders.

The Dream Chaser program—underway for 10 years—is based in Louisville, Colorado.

Explore further: NASA's space-station resupply missions to relaunch

More information: NASA: www.nasa.gov/offices/c3po/home/

Sierra Nevada: www.sncspace.com/

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RichManJoe
5 / 5 (4) Jan 14, 2016
This is my concept of what the shuttle should have been all along. The old shuttles design was a result of congressional mandate, but what was really needed was a cross between a Maytag repair van and a small delivery van. And now that Space-X is perfecting its reusable launch vehicle costs should come down.
KelDude
not rated yet Jan 15, 2016
When was this article written? Saying "SpaceX experienced its own launch failure last summer; it hopes to resume supply runs for NASA in the next month or so" is incorrect. SpaceX has already sent a capsule to the space station and landed their first stage booster back at a launch pad for reuse. Phys.org - Keep up or get out of the way!
PhotonX
not rated yet Jan 15, 2016
When was this article written? Saying "SpaceX experienced its own launch failure last summer; it hopes to resume supply runs for NASA in the next month or so" is incorrect. SpaceX has already sent a capsule to the space station and landed their first stage booster back at a launch pad for reuse. Phys.org - Keep up or get out of the way!
The byline reads "January 14, 2016 by By Marcia Dunn". And SpaceX *did* have a launch failure last summer, on June 28, 2015 when a Falcon 9 launch failed during the boost phase, so I'm not sure where you're taking issue here. The context of the paragraph was about an Orbital launch failure. Yes, SpaceX has had a successful launch (and historic first stage return) since then, but that wasn't the context of the paragraph.
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baudrunner
not rated yet Jan 16, 2016
The article is merely an update about NASA contracts with the private space-faring sector. Now three companies are in the running to service ISS, and they are all eager to grab as much as they can because they will need it. There are over 40 capsules and space planes currently in development worldwide by committed companies and the competition is fierce. They won't all survive.
Eikka
not rated yet Jan 17, 2016
the competition is fierce. They won't all survive.


There's a question of whether any of them will survive the long run, since there is only one customer, and only one destination which was supposed to work only up to 2020.

The Russians are in it until 2024 but that's still just 8 more years. After that, no more ISS, and possibly no more need for space truckers because there's nothing for humans to do in LEO that hasn't been done at least three times by now.

In the future with better, smaller robotics, they're just going to launch individual experiments to orbit and parachute them back down because it doesn't require a multi-billion-dollar a year money funnel to work. I mean, how many more years are they gonna make people run on the world's most expensive treadmill to conclude that nope, we still have no clue on how to prevent bone loss in zero gravity?

Nanook
not rated yet Jan 17, 2016
The original shuttle also had it's specs based on the need of the military to put things like large spy satellites and God only knows what else they'll never tell us about, in low earth orbit that would not have fit without it's massive design. It wasn't designed for or well suited to most civilian missions.
Eikka
not rated yet Jan 17, 2016
The original shuttle also had it's specs based on the need of the military to put things like large spy satellites and God only knows what else they'll never tell us about, in low earth orbit that would not have fit without it's massive design. It wasn't designed for or well suited to most civilian missions.


I think it was also made to be re-fueled in orbit, so part of the fuel tank is actually in the shuttle or there are provisions for connecting a secondary tank in the cargo bay.

The Soviet-made Buran was basically a direct copy of the Space Shuttle, but they ripped out everything unnecessary and made it much lighter, and therefore able to lift tons more cargo. It was also completely automatic and flew one orbit, including the landing on a runway, completely autonomously.

Problem was, the Soviets had absolutely no use for a shuttle. It had no point - and neither did the US shuttle, but there was much more political pressure to keep using it.

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