In March of 2015, ESA released a Call for Ideas (CFI) for strategic partnerships with the private sector in the field of Space Exploration.
In response, OHB System AG (Germany), Sierra Nevada Corporation (USA) and Telespazio SpA (Italy) teamed to create what is now called the Dream Chaser for European Utilization (DC4EU). ESA has selected the DC4EU mission out of 60 partnership ideas for a pilot phase implementation. Developed by SNC, the Dream Chaser SUV is contracted by NASA to provide cargo services to and from the ISS under the Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS2) contract. The uncrewed Dream Chaser spacecraft variant is capable of transporting pressurized and unpressurized cargo to and from LEO with controlled entry and landing on approved airports.
The Dream Chaser® for European Utilization (DC4EU) program has now kicked off the pilot phase with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), Telespazio, the European Space Agency (ESA) and OHB System AG (OHB) will now assess the feasibility and commercial viability of the DC4EU dedicated mission to provide affordable, independent European access to LEO via the Dream Chaser space utility vehicle (SUV).
The DC4EU Pilot Phase
The DC4EU mission was one of eight selected by ESA to begin pilot phase implementation in 2016. It offers the best value for European access to LEO by providing a full end-to-end mission capability using the unique attributes of the SUV, compatibility with the European Ariane 6 launch vehicle and the ability to land on suitable runways for near-immediate payload access. The objective of the pilot phase is to demonstrate the technical and programmatic feasibility of DC4EU, which includes the preparation of a business plan-highlighting the partnership viability for private and public interests. The Dream Chaser® can be launched with an European rocket and can land at commercial airports in Europe. Once back on Earth, the experiments can quickly be accessed by experimenters.
According to Mark Sirangelo, the Corporate Vice President of SNC’s space systems business area, the Dream Chaser SUV is the only reusable, lifting-body spacecraft with a commercial runway landing capability, anywhere in the world and offers safe, affordable, flexible and reliable transportation to space. That is exactly what the SNC industry team is offering Europe during the ISS transition phase.
David Parker, the ESA director for Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration, explained that commercial partnerships are a new element of the ESA Space Exploration Program, as they open up space exploration for private sector-led initiatives and offer exciting opportunities for advancing the implementation of the ESA strategic goals for space exploration in novel ways and for enlarging the stakeholder community actively engaged in exploring space.