Dream Chaser Development Continues Despite No ‘Space Taxi’ Contract and Sierra Nevada Corp. Layoffs

SNC's Dream Chaser atop ULA Atlas V Rocket on Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.  Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC)

SNC’s Dream Chaser atop ULA Atlas V Rocket on Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER — Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) will “continue developing the Dream Chaser” space plane despite losing out on this month’s high-stakes contract award for NASA’s commercial “space taxi” program to carry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) and the significant company workforce layoffs announced as an inevitable result of the contract loss, SNC representatives told AmericaSpace.

“SNC has made the decision to continue the development of the Dream Chaser to flight,” SNC spokesperson Krystal Scordo stated—but with a smaller program staff.

“The total reduction was approximately 9 percent of SNC’s overall Colorado workforce. SNC is and will remain financially sound and stable.”

Furthermore, SNC already has filed a legal protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) challenging NASA’s decision selecting Boeing and SpaceX for contracts to build America’s next human-rated spaceship to carry U.S. astronauts to the ISS under the agency’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) program, as reported earlier here.

“We have decided to protest the CCtCap decision,” Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Space Systems told AmericaSpace.

“The filing of the protest was completed on Friday [Sept. 26],” SNC spokesperson Krystal Scordo stated. “At this time we are not commenting further on the filing protest.”

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (left) announces the winners of NASA’s  Commercial Crew Program development effort to build America’s next human spaceships launching from Florida to the International Space Station.  Speaking from Kennedy’s Press Site, Bolden announced the contract award to Boeing and SpaceX to complete the design of the CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft.  Former astronaut Bob Cabana, center, director of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida,  Kathy Lueders, manager of the agency's Commercial Crew Program, and former International Space Station Commander Mike Fincke also took part in the announcement.  Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (left) announces the winners of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program development effort to build America’s next human spaceships launching from Florida to the International Space Station. Speaking from Kennedy’s Press Site, Bolden announced the contract award to Boeing and SpaceX to complete the design of the CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft. Former astronaut Bob Cabana, center, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Kathy Lueders, manager of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, and former International Space Station Commander Mike Fincke also took part in the announcement. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

SNC’s “space taxi” proposal involved building the manned, reusable Dream Chaser space plane which can carry a mix of cargo and up to seven crew members to the ISS.

For a detailed outline of Dream Chaser’s construction, testing, and launch plans, as well as its unique capabilities, be sure to read the exclusive five-part Dream Chaser one-on-one interview series with SNC VP Mark Sirangelo.

On Sept. 16, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced that Boeing and SpaceX have won NASA’s history-making competition to build the first-ever privately developed “space taxis” to transport American astronauts to the ISS, at a media briefing held at the Kennedy Space Center and attended by AmericaSpace.

Under the CCtCAP award, NASA awarded contracts valued at $6.8 billion to Boeing and SpaceX aimed at restoring America’s capability to launch American astronauts from American soil by the end of 2017.

Boeing was given the highest value award, worth $4.2 billion, to build the CST-100. SpaceX was awarded a lesser secondary amount valued at $2.6 billion to build the Dragon V2—an advanced version of the unmanned cargo Dragon delivering supplies to the ISS, such as the Sept. 21 CRS-4 mission launch to the ISS.

Based on the description from SNC’s protest filing with the GAO, SNC’s rejected “space taxi” bid was approximately $3.3 billion, or $900 million less than Boeing. NASA thus chose to award the commercial crew contracts to the highest and lowest bidders, for as yet undisclosed reasons.

Sirangelo previously outlined to AmericaSpace how SNC had partnered in recent months with a diverse nationwide and international team of companies, U.S. universities, NASA centers, and nearly two dozen global space agencies to lay the foundation and pave a path forward to manufacture and launch the winged space plane, no matter the outcome of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) decision announced on Sept. 16, 2014.

Sirangleo calls them “The Dream Chaser ‘Dream Team’.”

“We have quite a large team of about 30 companies working for us in building the vehicle as part of our Dream Chaser ‘Dream Team’,” Sirangelo said.

“There are 32 states and 30 companies with employment on this program, nine U.S. universities, nine NASA centers, as well as international partners involved in the program as our ‘Dream Team’.”

“We are very fortunate in that we now actually have 21 space agencies that have a connection to the program, which is pretty incredible. They are direct relationships,” said Sirangelo.

Dream Chaser set to dock at the ISS in this artists concept..  Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC)

Dream Chaser set to dock at the ISS in this artists concept.. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC)

The Dream Chaser international partners include ESA (European Space Agency), DLR (German Aerospace Agency), and JAXA (Japanese Aerospace and Exploration Agency).

Despite the lack of NASA funding, SNC representatives told AmericaSpace the company will push forward with manufacturing and launching Dream Chaser using the multifaceted partnerships as the building blocks.

“We are aggressively pursuing commercial and international paths for our program, as announced throughout the program, we will to continue to pursue these efforts,” Scordo said.

“SNC has made the decision to continue the development of the Dream Chaser to flight.”

One might reasonably ask: How SNC can possibly move forward on Dream Chaser without NASA funding?

“We have been laying the foundation with many relationships. And we are working on a global basis,” Sirangelo emphasized prior to NASA’s decision. “All the elements are there and are tangible and touchable, not theoretical.”

Furthermore, SNC and partner Lockheed Martin have already begun the construction of the first orbital Dream Chaser vehicle and have reserved a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket for the maiden launch that had been targeted for November 2016.

“We have begun the build of the first Dream Chaser orbital vehicle that will be on the first flight in November 2016!” Sirangelo explained previously.

As to whether SNC can still hold to that optimistic 2016 launch frame, only time and U.S. and International partner funding and commitments will tell.

Nevertheless, the Dream Chaser program is moving forward, although the emphasis is likely to shift rapidly to an unmanned version of Dream Chaser, pending the outcome of the legal protest filing with the GAO.

“SNC has a significant ongoing Dream Chaser team sufficient to execute the program,” noted Scordo.

Plus, there is another very realistic path forward: Dream Chaser can fly fully autonomously with no crew and function as a cargo resupply ship to the ISS. NASA has issued a request for proposals for a follow-on to the current ISS commercial resupply services (CRS) contract dubbed CRS2.

“SNC has made the decision to continue with … a near term bid on NASA’s CRS2 effort,” Scordo stated. “We will bid NASA’s CRS contract.”

As part of SNC’s flight effort the company will also continue ahead with the atmospheric drop test program this Fall in order to complete the final milestone task required under NASA’s current Commercial Crew Integrated Capability initiative (CCiCAP) phase of the commercial crew program effort.

“We plan to continue to work on Dream Chaser under the CCiCap initiative with NASA,” said Scordo.

The Dream Chaser test article in autonomous free flight over NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California Saturday, October 26, 2013.  Photo Credit: SNC

The Dream Chaser test article in autonomous free flight over NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California Saturday, October 26, 2013. Photo Credit: SNC

Unfortunately, SNC’s Dream Chaser effort will have to move ahead with a much-reduced staff amounting to around 100 fewer folks at its Louisville, Colo., workforce.

“As a result of not being selected by NASA SNC needed to conduct a limited staff reduction of our Dream Chaser® team of the personnel that have come on board in anticipation of the growth a win would have provided,” Scordo stated.

“We have held out as long as possible in taking these actions as every person and every job is important to the company. We spent considerable time exploring every avenue and doing all that we could think of to keep the impact of as minimal as possible. We have retained as many people as we were able.

“The total reduction was approximately 9 percent of SNC’s overall Colorado workforce. That workforce has grown significantly—from 200 people five years ago to over 1,110 today.

“SNC is and will remain financially sound and stable. SNC’s business and backlog is as strong as ever.

“This reduction was confined to the Dream Chaser team and support staff and does not affect our other programs. SNC employs a solid and quality space group. We continue to expand while expecting a strong year,” Scordo explained.

The CCtCAP awards from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) office will continue to be implemented as a public-private partnership and are the fruition of NASA’s strategy to foster the development of privately built human spaceships that began in 2010.

Be sure to check out AmericaSpace’s in-depth look at Dream Chaser and read the exclusive five-part Dream Chaser interview series with SNC VP Mark Sirangleo: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

Download the entire series at the tab on the right side of our Home Page.

Stay tuned here for continuing developments.

Ken Kremer

 

Want to keep up-to-date with all things space? Be sure to “Like” AmericaSpace on Facebook and follow us on Twitter: @AmericaSpace

Scale models of NASA’s Commercial Crew program vehicles and launchers; Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, SpaceX Dragon. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Scale models of NASA’s Commercial Crew program vehicles and launchers; Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, SpaceX Dragon. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

5 comments to Dream Chaser Development Continues Despite No ‘Space Taxi’ Contract and Sierra Nevada Corp. Layoffs

  • Tracy The Troll

    I am thinking that this is actually a good thing as SNC may very well partner with ISRO and have a very cheap human transport to LEO…

  • Tracy The Troll

    SNC has just announced a partnership with StratoLauncher!!! This is great news for cheap access to space, in any weather, on any orbit trajectory…See the link…

    http://www.popularmechanics.com/how-to/blog/sierra-nevada-stratolaunch-17266690?click=pm_latest

    • We have been working this story for a few days, unlike the website you linked to on our page we actually put in the extra effort to get additional comment and info straight from the company themselves. Our story will publish in the next 48 hours.

      – Mike Killian

  • Engineer

    “As a result of not being selected by NASA SNC needed to conduct a limited staff reduction of our Dream Chaser® team of the personnel that have come on board in anticipation of the growth a win would have provided,” Scordo stated.”

    This is partially untrue, and a slap in the face to some of those let go a few weeks ago. Some of those who were released were absolutely not people who came on board “in anticipation of the growth a win would have provided” – many of them had been on board prior to the previous contract win, CCICap. Some of them were very senior, highly skilled, and irreplaceable people. Some of those who remained were also relatively recent hires. As much as those who were laid off respected (and continue to respect) the Dream Chaser management team, the mischaracterization of those released is a commonly voiced disappointment.

    “The total reduction was approximately 9 percent of SNC’s overall Colorado workforce. That workforce has grown significantly—from 200 people five years ago to over 1,110 today.”

    This characterization of the layoff percentage is disingenuous. The business unit was the Space Systems Group, most of which is involved in satellite work. The relevant group is the Dream Chaser group, and of that group about 1/3 were laid off – that is, about a 30% reduction.

    • Thanks for these clarifications. Although PR always hopes lipstick will hide the pig, the truth fortunately seems to come out.

      I am very interested in you view of the leaks to The Wall Street Journal’s Andy Pasztor and Space News about the reasons for SNC not being chosen.