The rendering shows what Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser spacecraft and cargo module would look like while attached to the International Space Station. (Courtesy Sierra Nevada Corp.)

Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser wins piece of NASA cargo-supply contracts

LOUISVILLE — Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Louisville-based Space Systems Division, which lost out on a huge NASA contract nearly a year and a half ago, this time around landed one.

The company late Thursday announced that it has received a contract from NASA to provide at least six cargo delivery, return and disposal services to and from the International Space Station, using its reusable Dream Chaser spacecraft.

Sierra Nevada, headquartered in Sparks, Nev., competed with four aerospace industry giants for NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2 contract to transport pressurized and unpressurized cargo to the space station through 2024.

Dream Chaser’s future had been in doubt in September 2014 when NASA snubbed Sierra Nevada and awarded $6.8 billion in contracts to Boeing Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies to build the next spacecraft that will send astronauts into orbit from American soil. But Sierra Nevada rebounded, unveiling a more versatile, unmanned cargo-only version of  Dream Chaser with folding wings and an added cargo module attached to the back.

NASA also issued cargo contracts to Orbital ATK of Dulles, Va., and SpaceX of Hawthorne, Calif., to continue building on their initial resupply partnerships.

“Few would have imagined back in 2010 when President Barack Obama pledged that NASA would work ‘with a growing array of private companies competing to make getting to space easier and more affordable,’ that less than six years later we’d be able to say commercial carriers have transported 35,000 pounds of space cargo (and counting!) to the International Space Station – or that we’d be so firmly on track to return launches of American astronauts to the ISS from American soil on American commercial carriers. But that is exactly what is happening,” said NASA administrator Charles Bolden. “Today’s announcement is a big deal that will move the president’s vision further into the future.”

The contracts guarantee a minimum of six cargo resupply missions from each provider and include funding ISS integration, flight-support equipment, special tasks and studies, and NASA requirement changes.

A dollar figure for Sierra Nevada’s contract was not available by BizWest’s deadline, but the  maximum potential value of all contracts is $14 billion from 2016 through 2024. NASA said it would order missions as needed, and the total prices paid under the contract will depend on which mission types are ordered.