Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) have stepped up their evaluations into finding a suitable facility to house the Dream Chaser fleet in Florida. With the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) confirmed as their fleet’s HQ, several buildings – ranging from an Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) to other available buildings at the famous spaceport – may become viable options.
Searching for a Dream Chaser Home at KSC:
Following their Commercial Crew integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative award, SNC are now one of just three companies who have NASA funding to develop a vehicle capable of launching American astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) around the middle of this decade
Pitted against two capsules – SpaceX’s Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100 – Dream Chaser is the only option that is a lifting body vehicle, derived from the NASA Langley HL-20 spaceplane concept from the 1980s. Being different is a positive angle for SNC, who have previously cited Dream Chaser’s “dissimilar redundancy” when compared to its competitors.
However, its similarities to the world-famous Space Shuttle orbiters, via its appearance as a “baby” version of the iconic spacecraft, has also won it a fair share of admirers, not least because the “winged” vehicle shape of the Dream Chaser is etched into a generation’s mindset as to how a spaceship is expected to look like.
Dream Chaser will not launch from the Shuttle launch pads at Complex 39, instead it will launch atop of an Atlas V from SLC-41 at Cape Canaveral. However, out the three main commercial contenders, it will be the most active at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), utilizing the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) for its return from space, but also using the spaceport for its processing needs.
“We are basing the Dream Chaser out of KSC. That is where the fleet will be head-quartered,” noted Mark Sirangelo, Corporate Vice President and head of SNC’s Space Systems to NASASpaceFlight.com. “That’s where we will be returning it to for refurbishing for its next flight.”
With KSC busy with its efforts to attract commercial companies to the spaceport as part of its post-Shuttle “multi-user” brief, the hope is that more companies will follow last year’s NASA agreement with Space Florida – the State’s aerospace economic development agency – that resulted in Boeing’s CST-100 agreeing to take over OPF-3 as its processing facility.
“We’ve been in discussions with the Kennedy Space Center and Space Florida about facilities (at the spaceport),” noted Jim Voss, SNC director of advanced programs and program executive for Dream Chaser to NASASpaceFlight.com.
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“An OPF may not be the ideal facility for our vehicle, because they have all the structures that were specific to the shuttle that would have to be removed. We need a large open area, because our vehicle is much more accessible than the Shuttle was, and we don’t need hazardous operations because of our non toxic propellants we have on-board.
“But we are looking at using a facility at KSC for our processing.”
Taking into account Dream Chaser’s less demanding flow requirements, a number of facilities could handle the spacecraft’s processing needs. These include the Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) hangar, located ideally next to the SLF where Dream Chaser will land.
However, this hangar already has a tenant via an agreement with Starfighters Inc.
It is unlikely the RLV hangar will welcome several tenants, based on the Stratolaunch team apparently opting against basing their large carrier aircraft in the building. Sources note they are expected to build a brand new hangar in the area of the SLF for their needs.
Also, KSC planners have made no secret about their wish to host Dream Chaser inside an OPF, with documentation (via L2 – LINK) showing a fleet of four Dream Chasers being processed inside a “Clean Floor” OPF – a reference to an OPF that has seen all of its Shuttle gantry platforms removed, a process that is currently underway in OPF-3 for CST-100’s requirements.
Documentation has also shown that KSC’s “wish list” is for all three OPFs to house new vehicles, namely CST-100, as already agreed, Dream Chaser in OPF-2 and the US Air Force’s X-37B in OPF-1.
Another clear sign KSC expects to gain a second commercial vehicle in one of the two remaining OPFs was seen via information cited during the recent Transition and Retirement (T&R) flow, where it was noted the continued rotation of the two remaining orbiters at KSC – Atlantis and Endeavour – for stays inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) would initiated in the event a second OPF was soon to be handed over to a new customer.
As seen with Atlantis’ last move to the VAB, while Endeavour is prepared for her flight to California inside OPF-1, that plan was approved.
It is likely none of the associated parties wish to show their hand at this stage of planning, ahead of the expected negotiations that will finalize where the Dream Chasers will call home later this decade.
(Images via L2 – via the impressive DC section, *L2 members click here* – with additional images via NASA, SNC and Brian Papke, MaxQ/NASASpaceflight.com)
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