Could this ''Dream Chaser'' spacecraft herald a new dawn in commercial space travel?
Showcased at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the ''Dream Chaser’’ will start off with NASA cargo missions.
But it’s also being remodelled to carry humans too.
The spaceplane is being developed by Colorado-based Sierra Space, the spaceflight wing of defense contractor Sierra Nevada Corporation.
John Roth is Sierra Space's vice president of business development.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) JOHN ROTH, SIERRA SPACE'S VICE PRESIDENT OF BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, SAYING:"Behind me, you'll see our Dream Chaser space vehicle. This vehicle is currently under contract with NASA under the Commercial Resupply Services contract. And we have a contract for seven missions to the International Space Station to be able to take cargo up to the space station, as well as science experiments and return those science experiments to the Earth."
The company has also signed a deal with Blue Origin to help build a private space station for commercial use called "Orbital Reef."
''In addition to the cargo vehicle, we're currently developing a crew version of the vehicle that will be able to carry six astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit to work both on the International Space Station, but also for a commercial destination that we're developing in conjunction with Blue Origin. Our space station is called Orbital Reef, and it's going to be a totally commercial space station that we own and operate and work with commercial businesses for realizing their commercial businesses in space."
In December 2021, NASA awarded $130 million to Blue Origin to help develop its Orbital Reef space station, in partnership with both Sierra Space and Boeing.
Blue Origin hopes Orbital Reef will be a hub for commercial industries such as:
manufacturing, entertainment, sports, gaming and adventure travel, in addition to being a home for crewed and cargo missions.
In total, NASA announced in December it had awarded over $415 million to Blue Origin, stalwart contractor Northrop Grumman and venture-backed Nanoracks to develop privately-owned and operated commercial space stations.
The trio of awards are emblematic of the U.S. space agency's efforts to tap private companies to enable an American-led commercial economy in low-Earth orbit as the iconic International Space Station potentially retires at the end of the decade.
And with the so-called "space race" heating up, the designers of the Dream Chaser are hoping their reusable space vessel will also help launch a new era in the commercialization of space exploration and travel.
The Dream Chaser spacecraft is expected to have its maiden space voyage at the end of 2022.