Sierra Space’s Shift: Dream Chaser’s Flight Amidst Layoffs & Strategy Overhaul10th Nov 2023
The Colorado-based commercial space company Sierra Space has revealed its first reusable spacecraft, the Dream Chaser spaceplane named “Tenacity.” It’s designed to facilitate cargo transportation and, in future, crew to Low-Earth Orbit (LEO).
Updated on 20th Nov: Sierra Space laid off several hundred employees
Sierra Space made pivotal decisions in November, marking a significant shift in their operational strategy.
The company revealed a restructuring initiative involving the layoff of several hundred employees and contractors. Confirming the move, a Sierra Space spokesperson disclosed the reduction of approximately 165 employees, with an unspecified number of contractors impacted, leading to a considerable cut in the workforce.
The affected employees received a transition period, including two weeks of paid non-working notice, a four-week severance package, and health care benefits until year-end. Before the restructuring, Sierra Space boasted a workforce of around 2,000 employees.
How It All Started
Under development since 2004, Dream Chaser has gone through a complicated path from concept to flight. Originally, its Space Shuttle-like design was intended to not only carry cargo but passengers to the International Space Station and then return to Earth to land like a conventional aircraft. However, it lost out in the competition in both these roles to SpaceX, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman and was relegated to later cargo missions while the spaceplane’s technology was improved.
Today, the first space-worthy craft, Tenacity, is at Sierra Space’s facility in Louisville, Colorado and will ship to NASA in a few weeks. Upon entering service, it will claim the unique distinction of being the sole flying runway-capable spacecraft currently in commercial operation. While presently funded through a NASA contract, the Dream Chaser is set to open its wings to a broader audience, offering its services to both customers world-wide for ventures into Low Earth Orbit.
Unique Features of Tenacity
The design of the Dream Chaser, characterized by wings, is accompanied by a propane/nitrous oxide propulsion system. Silica-based tiles are also a part of this innovative design, shielding the spacecraft from the intense heat generated during autonomous reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Dream Chaser is designed to withstand temperatures exceeding 3,000 degrees during re-entry and cooling rapidly after landing.
The Dream Chaser limits reentry acceleration to 1.5 g, safeguarding delicate cargoes such as crystals and specific pharmaceuticals from potential harm. The company claims that the Dream Chaser can complete at least 15 missions within its service life.
Sierra Space’s CEO, Tom Vice, stated: “Today, we have reached a profound milestone in our company’s journey and the future of our industry. This achievement is the result of audacious dreaming and relentless determination.” On 30 October, Sierra Space’s dedicated team gathered at their Louisville, Colorado production facility to celebrate this momentous occasion.
Setting New Standards for Reusability & Adaptability
Dream Chaser’s high reusability and adaptability set it apart, making it an optimal choice for a variety of applications and ensuring rapid turnaround times to meet diverse LEO requirements. The launch for this extraordinary journey is scheduled from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Sierra Space’s launch provider, United Launch Alliance (ULA), will carry Dream Chaser into orbit aboard the second Vulcan Centaur rocket. Tenacity’s maiden resupply mission will conclude with the vehicle’s return and landing at the historic NASA Space Shuttle Landing Facility.