Friday, April 1, 2016


Huntsville and Madison County officials announce plans to study how to land Dream Chaser at their airport. Image source: Huntsville Times.

The Huntsville Times reports that Sierra Nevada Corp. officials told their city officials the cargo version of the Dream Chaser will land, for now, only in Huntsville.

Huntsville is “the only community” where Colorado space company Sierra Nevada is planning to land its Dream Chaser spaceship anytime soon, company officials said Thursday ...

“There was a leap of faith on the Huntsville side that we would be a company that could get this vehicle built and start servicing the space station...,” Sierra Nevada Vice President John Roth said Thursday. “Yes, we have been approached by other airports for ventures. We're not moving forward at this time with any of those. Right now, Huntsville is the only community we're moving forward with a (landing) license on.”

There's no doubt Dream Chaser will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V booster from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 41.

The spaceplane design gives SNC's customers the flexibility to land at any runway of sufficient length.

Although Kennedy Space Center's former Shuttle runway would seem a logical landing site, the Space Station Processing Facility is geared primarily to prepare experiments for launch, not post-flight analysis.

NASA's Payload Operations Integration Center is located at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. According to this 2014 NASA fact sheet:

The Payload Operations Integration Center is the heartbeat for International Space Station research operations. As NASA’s primary space station science command post, the payload operations team coordinates all U.S. scientific and commercial experiments on the station, synchronizes payload activities of international partners, and directs communications between researchers around the world and their onboard experiments.

Click the arrow to watch this November 2013 NASA video on the Payload Operations Integration Center. Video source: NASA's Marshall Center YouTube channel.

If Dream Chaser lands in Huntsville, it will need to be transported back to Kennedy Space Center for inspection and refurbishment before another flight. Sierra Nevada signed a deal in 2014 to use KSC's Operations & Checkout building for Dream Chaser, but that was when SNC was still bidding for a commercial crew contract. That competition was lost to SpaceX and Boeing. With a commercial cargo contract won in January 2016, presumably that version of Dream Chaser will also go in the O&C.

UPDATE April 6, 2016 — A representative from Sierra Nevada Corporation contacted me via email to correct the statement in the above article that commercial cargo deliveries would be in Huntsville.

On March 31, 2016 Sierra Nevada Corporation participated in a press briefing hosted by the Chamber of Commerce of Huntsville/Madison County regarding the feasibility of landing SNC’s Dream Chaser spacecraft at Huntsville International Airport. Following that briefing it was reported that Huntsville is the only community that SNC is considering to land its SNC’s Dream Chaser spacecraft. Huntsville International Airport was the first commercial airport to initiate a landing site study and licensing effort for Dream Chaser and SNC is currently working with the Huntsville community regarding potential future commercial missions. However, all NASA Commercial Resupply Services 2 contracted missions will land at the Shuttle Landing Facility at Kennedy Space Center.

The representative clarified that the CRS-2 contract gives NASA the option to specify the landing site. For now, all landings are planned for KSC.

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