NASA's Dream Chaser space plane could touch down in New Mexico's Spaceport America

NASA will soon have a third way of sending cargo to the ISS.
Brad Bergan
A computer-generated image of the Dream Chaser space plane.Sierra Space  

NASA's Dream Chaser space plane may have scored another landing site for its future flights to space and back, according to a recent press release from Sierra Space.

The spaceship manufacturer signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Spaceport America on Tuesday, which means the Dream Chaser could make landings at the New Mexico facility, once it completes its orbital trips.

Dream Chaser will offer NASA a third way of lofting cargo to the ISS

Of course, the agreement doesn't necessarily mean that the Dream Chaser will make landings there, but it brings the two firms closer in their "mutual pursuit" of a viable reentry license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), to make touchdowns in the Dream Chaser in New Mexico.

As of writing, the FAA has given its approval for the space planet to make landings at the Huntsville International Airport — based in Alabama, according to the press release. Spaceport American's possible role as a landing site for the Dream Chaser will "continue to open up affordable access to space for all," said Sierra Space CEO Tom Vice, in the release.

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But as of yet, there's no rigid timeline for when and how landings will be made at Spaceport America. NASA has asked Sierra Nevada to kick off its Dream Chaser flights with at least six uncrewed cargo missions to the International Space Station (ISS). And these flights will lift off using the United Launch Alliance's Vulcan Centaur rockets, at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, in Florida.

Another landing site for the Dream Chaser is NASA's old space shuttle runway, located at Kennedy Space Center's Launch and Landing Facility — also in Florida. But there are other options: the space plane could land at Oita Airport in Japan, or even the U.K.'s Spaceport Cornwall, according to the release.

NASA's public-private partnerships are fundamentally changing space travel, for keeps

At first, Sierra Space considered using Dream Chaser for crewed flights, to lift astronauts to the ISS, but NASA opted for SpaceX's services (and Boeing's to be fair to the Artemis' SLS rocket), for human missions. But that doesn't mean Sierra Space will never carry humans to space — since it might build a crewed variant of its space plane, should other clients show interest.

As of writing, NASA sends cargo to the ISS via rockets supplied by Northrop Grumman and Elon Musk's SpaceX. And the latter's Dragon capsule can return experiments (and human astronauts) to Earth, with full re-entry capabilities. Once Dream Chaser is fully operational, NASA will have a third way of domestically lofting precious cargo to advance the cutting-edge scientific and commercial endeavors that will continue on the ISS — at least, until it's retired and deorbited.

The rate at which public-private partnerships have progressed in the past decade is truly unprecedented — even during NASA's first golden age of the Apollo missions, there were never this many disparate ways to send scientific cargo and experiments to space on so many private vehicles. One wonders what the nature of space travel will look like, a decade or two from now. It's been an incredible journey watching SpaceX's Falcon 9, Super Heavy, and Starship launch vehicles pull ahead of Blue Origin's New Shepard — with NASA's SLS trailing behind as it continues preparations for a first launch. But, whether for better or worse, these are the days that will shape the future of the human exploration and settlement of space.

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