[ Third in a series of posts about the companies that won and lost in NASA's Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) competition ]
As part of a June agreement between NASA administrator Charles Bolden and Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee with oversight of NASA’s budget, NASA agreed to provide no more than “two and a half” CCiCap awards: two “full” awards and a third “partial” award that would allow that company to remain involved in the program, but at a slower pace. With the CCiCap award announcement Friday, it appeared Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) got the “half” award, with a total value of $212.5 million, less than half of either SpaceX’s or Boeing’s awards.
Mark Sirangelo, vice president of SNC and head of it Space Systems division, doesn’t see it that way, telling reporters on a media telecon Friday morning that he feels the company is not behind Boeing and SpaceX for two reasons. “We’re riding the Atlas V rocket, which has now flown 31 times,” he said. “We have a significant amount of rocket risk behind us.” Boeing, of course, is also using the Atlas V, but SpaceX is using its own Falcon 9, which has flown only three times—all successfully—to date.
The other reason, he said, is that Dream Chaser is based on NASA’s HL-20 lifting body design, which the agency developed over the course of a decade. “When you take that history plus the eight years that we’ve been working on it, we actually have a significant amount of work that has been done.” The combination of that spacecraft design heritage and launch vehicle record helps level the playing the field, Sirangelo concluded. “It may appear as though we’re behind, but in our view we think that in many ways we’re more mature.”
While the size of SNC’s Space Act Agreement is smaller than the other two, Sirangelo said it may be possible to get more money through the exercise of additional, optional milestones. On the company’s CCDev-2 award, he said, the company won $25 million in such additional milestones. “We were not the largest award in the base period of the last round, but we wound up actually getting and earning the largest amount of money from that program,” he said.
The current base program features nine milestones, falling short of achieving critical design review (CDR) as was the case with the Boeing and SpaceX awards. “We expect in this phase to conduct a significant amount of work, both on the development of the necessary path to CDR that will be required for the vehicle as well as a significant amount of hardware development,” Sirangelo said. The milestones do include flight testing of an engineering test article and propulsion tests. The original agreement contained between 13 and 20 milestones, Sirangelo said; the tenth, for example, was a full demonstration of their flight simulator, although he declined to go into details about the additional unfunded (for now) milestones.
“We believe that we’re going to be able to maintain the same pace. We’re on schedule and on budget for what we want to do with the program,” Sirangelo concluded. “It’s a very exciting time for us.”