Dream Chaser Primary Structure Arrives In Colorado

Image Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation

October 15, 2019 – Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) announces the arrival of the primary vehicle structure to the company’s Colorado production facility, kicking off full assembly of the Dream Chaser spacecraft ahead of its first mission for NASA in 2021. The structure is the largest piece of technology to make up Dream Chaser and the most advanced high-temperature composite spaceframe ever built.

“It’s an extraordinary engineering and manufacturing accomplishment,” said Eren Ozmen, chairwoman and president of SNC. “Our team has been looking forward to this day for a long time so that we can fully assemble America’s spaceplane in preparation for its first mission for NASA.” 

The primary structure is a pressurized composite structure that will contain pressurized payloads heading to the International Space Station. The structure was manufactured by subcontractor Lockheed Martin and recently shipped from their Fort Worth, Texas facility to Louisville, Colorado, where Dream Chaser is being built and integrated by SNC.

“As the first building block of the spacecraft, it represents the first critical path hardware to be received in Colorado and launch of the assembly, integration and test (AI&T) phase of the program,” said former NASA space shuttle commander, astronaut and retired USAF pilot Steve Lindsey, now senior vice president of strategy for SNC’s Space Systems business area.  “Dream Chaser is truly a state-of-art vehicle with cutting edge technology. This structure exemplifies its unique design and complexity.”

Highlights Of The Design:

  • Uses advanced composite 3D woven assembly methods and represents the most advanced high-temperature composite spaceframe ever built.
  • Structure is about 30 feet long by 15 feet wide and approximately 6 feet high and weighs roughly 2,200 pounds.
  • Materials include carbon fiber reinforced polymers (CFRPs), more traditionally referred to as “composites.”
  • The use of CFRP materials instead of aluminum and titanium alloys, lowers manufacturing costs for creating a unique, aerodynamically complex spaceframe design.  
  • Composites decrease the amount of thermal protection required compared to an aluminum primary structure. 
  • Advanced 3D woven construction minimize penetrations to the hot lower aeroshell.

Dream Chaser is scheduled to launch starting in late 2021 for at least six cargo resupply and return services to the International Space Station for NASA under the Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract.  The Dream Chaser Cargo System can carry up to 12,000 pounds of supplies and other cargo, and returns delicate science to Earth with a gentle runway landing.