Sierra Nevada Corporation Selection Could be Good News for Houston Spaceport

Sierra Nevada Corporation's Space Systems will join private companies SpaceX and Orbital ATK in operating at least six flights each between 2019 and 2024. 

February 9, 2016

Sierra Nevada Corporation's (SNC) Space Systems has won a piece of a multibillion-dollar NASA contract, in a decision that could result in positive news for the recently licensed Houston Spaceport at Ellington Airport in Houston, Texas. 

As a result of the NASA decision, SNC will be one of three companies charged with resupplying the International Space Station starting in 2019.  The news could prove to be beneficial for the Houston Spaceport, as Sierra Nevada Corporation has already signed a letter of intent with the Houston Airport System in the past, indicating their goal of working towards the establishment of landing operations at Houston Spaceport.

“We were excited to hear the news regarding NASA’s decision and we look forward to exploring the possibilities that lie within a Houston / Sierra Nevada Corporation partnership,” says Houston Aviation Director Mario Diaz.  “Sierra Nevada Corporation is a dynamic company that recognizes the limitless potential that exists at Houston Spaceport.  We look forward to continuing a very exciting dialogue.”

That dialogue began almost two years ago when the Houston Airport System first began speaking to Sierra Nevada Corporation leaders about the possibility of their Dream Chaser Spacecraft landing at Houston Spaceport.  That conversation was temporarily placed on hold in 2014, after NASA decided not to include Sierra Nevada Coproration in their resupply plans for the International Space Station.  But 16 months later, the Nevada-based company now has a seat at the table and will join two other companies in making sure needed supplies are making their way to the International Space Station.

"In such a major competition, we are truly humbled by the show of confidence in SNC and look forward to successfully demonstrating the extensive capabilities of the Dream Chaser spacecraft to the world," Sierra Nevada Corp. president Eren Ozmen said in a statement. "SNC's receipt of this award is an American Dream come true for all of us."

Sierra Nevada Corporation's Space Systems will join private companies SpaceX and Orbital ATK in operating at least six flights each between 2019 and 2024.  However, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser represents the only spacecraft involved in the operations that’s capable of landing on a traditional airline runway, since most cargo ships splash down in the ocean or burn up upon reentry.

This was a key factor in Sierra Nevada Corporation’s decision to sign a letter of intent with the City of Houston in April of 2014, outlining both sides’ commitment to working together in exploring a wide range of educational, technological, scientific and business capacities at Houston Spaceport. As part of the cooperative initiative, the organizations promised to study the physical, operational and regulatory requirements for Sierra Nevada Corporation’s commercial space vehicle, Dream Chaser, to utilize the spaceport as one of its potential landing sites.

Since that time, Houston Spaceport received its official license from the Federal Aviation Administration (becoming the 10th licensed commercial spaceport in the United States) and the Houston Airport System has invested millions of dollars in creating a shared use manufacturing and general office facility, located along the southeast quadrant of Ellington Airport, representing the first dedicated infrastructure for the Houston Spaceport project.

“The City of Houston is perfectly situated to build itself as a hub for aerospace and space exploration activity, with a vibrant economy, a well-educated workforce and tremendous infrastructure already in place,” says Ellington Airport General Manager Arturo Machuca.  “Now, it’s simply a matter of attracting the type of companies that can maximize the potential.  Without a doubt, Sierra Nevada Corporation represents a perfect example of the type of partner we’re looking for.”

Houston Spaceport is located at Ellington Airport, a facility that sits just minutes from the downtown Houston area and accommodates both general aviation flights and NASA training operations.