Private Space Plane Builder Sierra Nevada Expanding to Florida

An artistic rendition of the Dream Chaser vehicle launching into space.
An artistic rendition of the Dream Chaser vehicle launching into space. (Image credit: Sierra Nevada)

COCOA BEACH, Fla. — Sierra Nevada Corp., one of four firms working on space taxi designs for NASA, is stepping up plans to expand its work force and operations in Florida, company and state officials announced May 4.

"The goal that we have here is really quite simple — we want to take the 'Help Wanted' signs out of the windows in Russia and bring it back here," Mark Sirangelo, executive vice president of Sierra Nevada's Space Systems Group, said during an announcement here.

The Louisville, Colo.-based firm is developing a small-winged vehicle called Dream Chaser that can carry up to seven astronauts, or a mix of crew and cargo, to and from the international space station. The company so far has been awarded $125 million from NASA for design and development work on the reusable space plane, about half of which already has been paid.

The Dream Chaser model with its Atlas V launch vehicle is undergoing final preparations at the Aerospace Composite Model Development Section's workshop for buffet tests at the Transonic Dynamics Tunnel at NASA Langley. Image released May 7, 2012. (Image credit: NASA EDGE/Ron Beard)

Sirangelo told Space News his company has made a "significant" financial investment in the project as well, though not as much as what NASA has contributed.

Sierra Nevada has applied for economic and tax incentive packages to expand its presence in Florida, Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll said.

The company currently employs about 300 people in Florida on other programs. Sierra Nevada employs about 2,200 people in 16 states.

It is among several firms vying for NASA’s next round of funding for the Commercial Crew Development program. The agency has $406 million to spend this year and hopes to award multiple 21-month contracts this summer worth between $300 million and $500 million for integrated design work.

If selected, Sierra Nevada plans to base its fleet of three to five spaceships at a still-to-be-determined facility at Kennedy Space Center or Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Former space shuttle workers are being recruited to process, launch and service the vehicles, which would take off aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket and land on the Shuttle Launch Facility runway.

"This is not a paper program. We are well into the manufacturing and starting to test," Sirangelo said.

This article was provided by Space News, dedicated to covering all aspects of the space industry.

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Irene Klotz
Contributing Writer

Irene Klotz is a founding member and long-time contributor to She concurrently spent 25 years as a wire service reporter and freelance writer, specializing in space exploration, planetary science, astronomy and the search for life beyond Earth. A graduate of Northwestern University, Irene currently serves as Space Editor for Aviation Week & Space Technology.