Meet Dream Chaser: the spunky little space plane that could

Meet Dream Chaser: the spunky little space plane that could

It was a devastating loss.

Mark Sirangelo and his team at the Sierra Nevada Corp. had been working for years to develop a new space craft to fly astronauts to the International Space Station. But it was ultimately rejected by NASA, which instead awarded multi-billion dollar contracts to two of Sierra Nevada’s competitors, Boeing and SpaceX.

Sierra Nevada protested the decision, but lost that, too. And so it seemed as if the program was done. All that time and effort developing the Dream Chaser, a sort of miniature space shuttle, for nothing. Suddenly, the state-of-the-art space craft was like a taxi driving around without a customer.

It was, Sirangelo said at the time, “like a death in the family.”

But the company refused to give up.

Sirangelo and his fellow executives decided the company would enter the spacecraft into the next major NASA procurement competition, this time to fly cargo to the station. It wouldn’t be easy. The Dream Chaser was a space plane designed for people, not supplies. And there wasn’t a lot of time to create another version of the vehicle. While stung by the previous loss, which was hard not to take personally, they were also motivated, channeling their anger into the redesigned cargo version.

The employees at the Colorado-based division of the Nevada company “put their emotions aside and said, ‘Let’s look at all these things we’ve been told and make sure we address every one of them,” Sirangelo, the corporate director of Sierra Nevada’s Space Systems division, said in a call with reporters Friday.

In the end, the failure made them take a hard look “at our weaknesses and forced us to become very introspective,” said Steve Lindsey, the company’s senior director of programs.

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