NASA announces Sparks company to carry supplies to Space Station   


Sierra Nevada Corp. wins contract to fly NASA resupply missions to International Space Station. Sparks-based Sierra Nevada Corp. secured a key foothold in the space race on Thursday, winning a contract to fly up to six missions to resupply the International Space Station by 2024. SNC joins Elon Musk's SpaceX and Orbital ATK Inc. as official space station resupply contractors for NASA on the $14 billion contract.

The company has developed a self-driving version of its Dream Chaser space shuttle. Turns out it's pretty good at sticking soft landings, so the cargo coming back to Earth from the space station will have a nice commute.

In announcing the new contract award, NASA officials said the Dream Chaser's ability to land on a runway will enable the agency to advance its scientific research in ways it hasn't been able to do until now. The Dream Chaser's more gentle landing capabilities will allow scientists to remove live samples from the space craft within three and six hours of landing.
"Right now we have biology studies going on and we bring home live organisms," said ISS Chief Scientist Julie Robinson. "A really hard landing, a splash down has really disrupted that before scientists are able to get their final measurements." 

The NASA contract is significant for the Sparks-based company that has been a well-established military contractor for decades. Since 2008, SNC has been awarded about $7.2 billion in federal contracts. Only a fraction of that has been from NASA.

NASA officials also said part of the agency's decision to award a third company part of the resupply contract was based on the fact that both SpaceX and Orbital ATK have experienced launch failures in the past year that hobbled their ability to fly missions.

The reusable Dream Chaser space system has been in development for 10 years, according to the company, which launched its Space System division in 2009. The Dream Chaser will be launched to space on an Atlas 5 rocket, which has been used more than 50 times since 2002, Sirangelo said.

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