Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has selected the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan Centaur to launch the company’s Dream Chaser spacecraft for six International Space Station resupply and return missions.
“Dream Chaser can launch from any conventional rocket so we had great options,” said 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.”
SNC had explored using a number of launch vehicles including the ULA Atlas 5, which had been earmarked to launch at least the initial Dream Chaser mission. Last year, however, the company revealed that it was looking at the Vulcan, Falcon 9 and New Glenn vehicles as well as, Europe’s Ariane 6 and Japan’s H3.
According to SNC president Eren Ozmen, the Vulcan was ultimately selected because the company has been “working with ULA from day one.” This relationship dates back to plans to launch a crewed version of the Dream Chaser spacecraft aboard an Atlas 5 to compete for NASA’s commercial crew program.
The Dream Chaser is expected to be the first commercial Vulcan payload. The spacecraft is expected to launch aboard the second Vulcan mission, which will serve as the rocket’s second certification flight. It is believed that SNC received a discount for flying aboard this flight, which traditionally would have just included a boilerplate certification payload.
The first Dream Chaser space station resupply and return mission is expected to be launched in 2021. It will carry 5,400 kilograms of cargo to the station and remain docked as to the orbiting laboratory for 75 days. It will then undock, dispose of 3,175 kilograms of cargo, and return to Earth touching down at the Kennedy Space Center with “large qualities of critical science.”