HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - A high-tech spacecraft could soon be using a Huntsville runway for commercial shipments to space.
The Huntsville International Airport is in the process of applying for a license through the Federal Aviation Administration to land Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser spacecraft.
This Phase II contract follows a Phase I contract completed in 2015 that examined the compatibility of SNC's Dream Chaser with the existing runway and taxiway environments at the airport.
"The preliminary study proved the feasibility of landing so now we are pleased to announce that we have initiated the permitting process with the FAA," said Rick Tucker, Huntsville International Airport Executive Director.
"This represents a shared vision of Huntsville as a leader in the commercial space economy as the first community to make a commitment to this vehicle and its role in space commerce," said Tucker.
Teledyne Brown Engineering serves as the primary contractor. Partnerships with the airport include the City of Huntsville, Madison County, the City of Madison, the State of Alabama, UAH and the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber.
"We're excited to continue our progress in this community-wide effort to land the Dream Chaser in Huntsville. This initiative fits well with our expertise and portfolio as a hub for the fast growing commercial space industry," said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle.
"Madison County is excited to move to the next step in bringing Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser to the Huntsville International Airport," said Madison County Commission Chairman Dale W. Strong.
Phase II is expected to take at least 24 months, as the permits are being sought, the partners will be working to share the capabilities of the Dream Chaser with potential users while marketing the workforce and expertise of the Huntsville region to support payload design, development, integration, operations and processing.
"We are very excited to be working with Huntsville as the first commercial airport that will apply for a FAA permit to land Dream Chaser after an orbital mission. This will put us in the forefront of commercial space activities and it is no surprise that 'Rocket City' is the first to join us on that journey," said John Roth, vice president of business development for SNC's Space Systems business area.
"Working to secure this permit through the FAA will allow this spacecraft to return to Earth's orbit and land at Huntsville International Airport in Madison County, Alabama, home to Marshall Space Flight Center, The University of Alabama Huntsville, and HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology," said Strong.
One marketing effort underway is the Huntsville Chamber's sponsorship of a contest with the European Space Agency (ESA). With Scottish aerospace company Astrosat, the Chamber is seeking ideas for utilizing the Dream Chaser beyond cargo transport. Entries are being accepted until September 8 at Space Exploration Masters. The prize includes business development support from Astrosat, a visit to Huntsville/Madison County, and a year's worth of business incubation at BizTech. The winner will be announced in October during the Space Tech Expo in Bremen, Germany, at the Huntsville/Madison County booth.
"The ESA competition has given us an international platform for sharing the space-related capabilities of Huntsville/Madison County," said Lucia Cape, senior vice president of economic development for the Chamber. "We look forward to seeing what entrepreneurs from around the world would do with a Dream Chaser spacecraft, and we want to let them know that they can land it here."
Sierra Nevada Corporation was awarded a cargo resupply contract with NASA in 2016. Earlier this year, SNC announced that its first two missions would be launched on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, made in Decatur, Alabama.
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