After production delays triggered by the pandemic, Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) says the first flight of its Dream Chaser spacecraft to the International Space Station is now scheduled for 2022. SNC executives said during a media conference on Nov. 17 that amid the short-term delays in installing the lift-body cargo spacecraft, they were still focusing on a long-term roadmap that involves using Dream Chaser cargo and crew models to support a commercial space station by the end of the decade. The corporation had previously scheduled Dream Chaser’s first flight, the first of six-under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract, to carry freight to and from the International Space Station by the end of 2021. Yet, business officials said at the meeting that the mission is now targeted for some time in 2022.
In the wait,” COVID has undoubtedly played a part,’ said Steve Lindsey, SNC Space Systems senior vice president of strategy. One explanation he provided included structural testing of the spacecraft’s cargo module at a contractor’s facility in San Diego. Restrictions associated with COVID prohibited SNC engineers from being on hand at that plant to supervise the experiments. By using a mission control center that it developed for Dream Chaser in Colorado, SNC developed a workaround so that those engineers could supervise those tests remotely. “That worked amazing. Sadly, it took three to four times as long as it should have been,’ he added.
A similar problem, he said, concerns providers who have had to interrupt activities at their facilities due to COVID-19 outbreaks. With Dream Chaser, there have also been technological problems, but he did not go into depth about particular concerns. He added, “All those things have conspired to change the date a little bit.” As for a launch date other than some time in 2022, Lindsey was not more precise. A precise date, he said, would depend on both the vessel’s readiness and the “traffic model” of NASA for visiting vessels, including Dream Chaser and other cargo and the crew spacecraft.
The corporation continues to pursue other buyers for the vehicle in addition to its NASA cargo contract while retaining the option for a crewed model. “Out there, there is a lot of interest. A lot of people are watching our development,’ he said. “We believe that there is a market demand.” He did not mention any clients outside the Office for Outer Space Affairs of the United Nations, which previously reported a deal with SNC for a Dream Chaser mission that would bring experiments from the United Nations members.