ULA’s Vulcan Centaur Will Launch Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser Spaceplane
United Launch Alliance (ULA) will supply launch vehicles for the Dream Chaser Cargo System . Starting in 2021, Dream Chaser – Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Space Systems’ reusable spaceplane – will launch aboard ULA's Vulcan Centaur rockets for six NASA cargo resupply and return services to the International Space Station (ISS). The Vulcan Centaur is currently under production at ULA’s factory in Decatur, Alabama and will be ready to ship to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida late next year for processing.
Under NASA's Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract, the Dream Chaser will deliver more than 12,000 pounds of pressurized and unpressurized cargo to the space station and will remain attached for up to 75 days as an orbiting laboratory. Once the mated mission is complete, the Dream Chaser disposes about 7,000 pounds of space station trash and returns large quantities of critical science, accessible within minutes after a gentle runway landing. The Dream Chaser is the only commercial lifting-body vehicle capable of runway landings.
“Dream Chaser can launch from any conventional rocket, so we had great options,” says SNC CEO Fatih Ozmen. “SNC selected ULA because of our strong collaboration on the Dream Chaser program, their proven safety record and on-time performance. This is bringing America's spaceplane and America's rocket together for best-of-breed innovation and exploration.”
SNC's Louisville, Colorado-based Space Systems division is proudly partnering with Centennial, Colorado's ULA, boosting the already strong aerospace economic footprint in the state.
“In this very competitive launch vehicle market, we feel privileged that SNC chose to launch this block of six missions to the ISS with ULA,” says Tory Bruno, ULA president and CEO. “This is one of the first contracts for our new Vulcan Centaur rocket, and the first of the six missions will serve as the rocket's second certification flight. We are excited to bring our more than 120 years of combined launch experience with our Atlas and Delta rockets, which build on a progressive history of technology development and advancement, to Vulcan Centaur.”
Approximately 90 percent of all of Vulcan Centaur's components will be flown first on Atlas V missions, so that its first flight will have reduced risk. Vulcan Centaur is a new class of space launch vehicle with the performance of a heavy launch vehicle in just a single core.
ULA recently submitted the Vulcan Centaur as a candidate for the U.S. Air Force 's Phase 2 Launch Services Procurement (LSP) competition. The company – along with Blue Origin , Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems , SpaceX – is vying from one of two contracts that will award up to 34 launches over a five-year period under the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) program. Formerly known as Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV), NSSL will shift the U.S. away from using launch vehicle propulsion systems of Russian design.
William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include literally anything that has to do with space, past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.