PARIS – Huntsville International Airport could become the first commercial airport to handle landings of the Dream Chaser, the spaceplane being developed by Sierra Nevada Corp. for supply trips to the International Space Station and other missions.
At the Paris Air Show today, Huntsville leaders announced they have launched preliminary studies to assess the possibility of Dream Chaser landings at the city’s airport. The initial inquiry will focus on environment factors such as the whether the Dream Chaser is compatible with the infrastructure at Huntsville International Airport.
“North Alabama has been a leader in space since the beginning, and we have to continue to do the things necessary to explore how we can maintain that leadership,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said. “We have a great partnership with Sierra Nevada Corp., and we are looking forward to the outcome of these first assessments.”
Sierra Nevada is advancing the Dream Chaser in the current NASA competition to supply cargo to the International Space Station. Sierra Nevada also plans to operate the vehicle on other missions, tailored to a variety of U.S. and international customers.
Like the Space Shuttle, the Dream Chaser launches on a rocket and lands on a runway. Because the Sierra Nevada craft is much smaller than the now-retired shuttle, it is able to land on any runway that can accommodate a Boeing 737 or an Airbus A320, the top-selling single-aisle passenger jet categories.
“For decades, Alabama’s Rocket City has been at the epicenter of groundbreaking space exploration technology,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “Having the Dream Chaser craft touch down at the Huntsville International Airport after a cargo mission to space would be a fitting new chapter in that ongoing story.”
At a press conference today in Paris, John Horack, vice president for commercial space imaging at Teledyne, said Alabama is an ideal spot for Dream Chaser landings.
“We make a lot of things in Alabama,” he said. “We make Mercedes automobiles. We make Toyota engines. We make airplanes. And we want to make the future.”
If preliminary assessments are successful, the study’s second phase could begin later in 2015, which could culminate in Federal Aviation Administration approval to land the Dream Chaser in Huntsville.
Madison County Commissioner Dale Strong said the spaceplane touching down in Huntsville would represent perfect symmetry for Alabama’s aerospace sector, which includes the nearby United Launch Alliance rocket plant. “The first Dream Chaser will ride to space aboard an Atlas-V, built right here in Decatur,” he said. “Some day, its journey may start with a North Alabama rocket, and end with a North Alabama landing.”
Strong added that the attempts to secure Dream Chaser landings fit in with an overall strategy of expanding aerospace employment in North Alabama. The area is already a major player in the U.S. aerospace and defense sector, with large government installations and the presence of Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and all other major aerospace companies.
“We have great skills here in our region for payload operations, integration, space vehicle processing and turnaround, and more,” Strong said. “As leaders, we need to do the things necessary to not only keep these kinds of high-paying and highly-skilled jobs here, but to make sure we grow them for the future.”
The initial studies on possible Dream Chaser landings will be performed by Huntsville’s Teledyne Brown Engineering, with support from RS&H Aerospace and Morell Engineering, based in Athens, Alabama.
“The technical and economic benefits of landing Dream Chaser here in Huntsville are significant,” said Horack of Teledyne. “Imagine being able to bring back critical or fragile payloads from space, and having them in a laboratory at Marshall Space Flight Center, Redstone Arsenal, Hudson-Alpha, or elsewhere, within mere minutes of touch-down.
“No other vehicle and no other region are so well-suited for each other, to accomplish new and great things in tomorrow’s commercial space economy,” Horack added.
The Dream Chaser study is being initiated by a coalition that includes the City of Huntsville, Madison County, the City of Madison, the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce, and the Huntsville-Madison County Airport Authority.