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Dream Chaser space plane aims to deliver US military cargo within 3 hours

dream chaser shuttle landing on a runway, surrounded by desert
Sierra Space's Dream Chaser space plane is capable of touching down on any runway that can accommodate a Boeing 737. (Image credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.)

Dream Chaser is eyeing high-speed shipments for the military through space.

Sierra Space, which is developing the shuttle-shaped Dream Chaser spacecraft for cargo deliveries and potential astronaut flights, signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) transportation command for point-to-point space shipments within three hours.

The early-stage cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) "provides unique capabilities for precise, cost-effective and timely global delivery of [DOD] logistics and personnel," Sierra Space officials said in a Sept. 8 statement (opens in new tab).

"Both parties will collaboratively explore space transportation as a new mode of point-to-point global terrestrial delivery of materiel and personnel, as an alternative and complement to traditional air, land and surface modes for … global supply chains," the statement added.

Related: Meet 'Tenacity': 1st Dream Chaser space plane gets a name

The U.S. military has signed several agreements in recent months for future point-to-point transportation needs, including a CRADA with Rocket Lab to use its Electron booster, and a $102 million contract with SpaceX (through the U.S. Air Force) for rocket deliveries of military cargo and humanitarian equipment.

CRADAs allow federal agencies to provide non-funded agreements to private agencies while still offering support through facilities, equipment, expertise and other services. Sierra Space said its agreement would allow the company to create logistics delivery to deal with emergent and high-speed threats in "contested and changing environments" or to supply areas in need of humanitarian relief.

The Dream Chaser spacecraft has performed several test flights as Sierra Space targets cargo shipments for NASA (with which it has an agreement for International Space Station resupply missions), along with other entities.

In pictures: Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser aces glide test flight

Artist's conception of Sierra Space's Dream Chaser space plane touching down on a runway. (Image credit: Sierra Space)
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The U.S. military has been talking about high-speed space deliveries for at least three years, including overcoming key constraints like weight, volume and restrictions in launch operations and recovery, according to a U.S. Air Force (USAF) release from October 2020.

"As industry advances to overcome these challenges as well as increase its pace of launches to decrease costs, a space transportation capability to put a crucial cargo quickly on target at considerable distances makes it an attractive alternative," USAF officials stated (opens in new tab) at the time.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.