CAMBRIDGE, MA—Building on a long-term strategic partnership, Draper and Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that sets a course for the two companies to explore development of space technologies, applications and missions related to SNC’s Dream Chaser® spacecraft. Customers for the new agreement include commercial entities, researchers, private foundations and NASA itself, which announced in February that it seeks partnerships with U.S. companies to advance the commercial space sector and support NASA’s own mission.
As a member of the Dream Chaser team, Draper brings a deep knowledge of avionics, especially in creating mission automation; guidance, navigation and control (GN&C) systems; and human-rated fault-tolerant flight computers. To ensure a smooth collaboration with customers and partners, Draper employs a technology transfer program encompassing design, documentation, training and manufacturability support. For the Dream Chaser, Draper developed a four-channel fault-tolerant flight computer equipped with redundancy management, guidance and navigation control, and fault detection and isolation. In its initial mission, the spacecraft will deliver NASA cargo to the International Space Station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS2) contract.
The MOU commits the two companies to expand the relationship created under the CRS2 contract, and it provides a framework to explore commercial space technologies and applications related to Dream Chaser, as well as to collaborate on other low Earth orbit (LEO) mission applications boost collaboration with other entities and jointly pursue additional interagency, international and commercial missions to space.
“For more than 50 years, Draper has supported the U.S. space program through an unwavering commitment and a comprehensive portfolio of technologies, execution of integrated projects and world-class research collaboration,” said Draper CEO and President Kaigham Gabriel. “We are excited to partner with Sierra Nevada Corporation and look forward to ensuring that spaceflight and space exploration remains a vital part of our company and our nation’s future.”
The MOU comes at a time when investment in space exploration and commercialization is an emphasis of the U.S. government and private investors. NASA’s continued faith in the private sector to develop LEO missions was affirmed in 2016 when the agency committed $14 billion over five years to supply the International Space Station. Similarly, a recent industry report found that space start-ups have attracted more than $13.3 billion of investment, with nearly two-thirds of that investment funding emerging in the last five years.
“Within a few years, commercial space travel and exploration will be commonplace, opening up opportunities for the science, business, foundation and research community to work with SNC and Draper to accomplish LEO missions, human access to space and powered payload transportation to the space station or other LEO destinations of interest,” said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s Space Systems business area. “SNC is proud to be partnered with Draper and we look forward to successful future missions and partnership opportunities.”
Since 2010, Draper and SNC have collaborated on a variety of successful space initiatives, including Dream Chaser, which has been in development for more than 10 years, including six years as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Before CRS2, the companies worked together refining concepts for SNC’s spacecraft under previous NASA contracts—the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev-1 and CCDev-2) and the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap)
Prospective customers for the agreement include U.S. government agencies, commercial entities, institutions, foundations, private citizens and international organizations, such as the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs and the European Space Agency.
About Sierra Nevada Corporation
Recognized as one of “The World’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Space,” Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) provides customer-focused advanced technology solutions in the areas of space, aviation, electronics and systems integration. SNC’s diverse technologies are used in applications including space exploration and satellites, aircraft integrations, navigation and guidance systems, threat detection and security, scientific research and infrastructure protection. Founded in 1963 and headquartered in Sparks, Nevada, SNC operates under the leadership of owners, CEO Fatih Ozmen and President Eren Ozmen, with a workforce of more than 3,000 personnel in 34 locations in 19 U.S. states, England, Germany and Turkey providing global support to customers.
Draper develops novel PN&T solutions by combining precision instrumentation, advanced hardware technology, comprehensive algorithm and software development skills, and unique infrastructure and test resources to deploy system solutions. The scope of these efforts generally focuses on guidance, navigation, and control GN&C-related needs, ranging from highly accurate, inertial solutions for (ICBMs) and inertial/stellar solutions for SLBMs, to integrated Inertial Navigation System(INS)/GPS solutions for gun-fired munitions, to multisensor configurations for soldier navigation in GPS-challenged environments. Emerging technologies under development that leverage and advance commercial technology offerings include celestial navigation (compact star cameras), inertial navigation (MEMS, cold atom sensors), precision time transfer (precision optics, chip-scale atomic clocks) and vision-based navigation (cell phone cameras, combinatorial signal processing algorithms).
Draper combines mission planning, PN&T, situational awareness, and novel GN&C designs to develop and deploy autonomous platforms for ground, air, sea and undersea needs. These systems range in complexity from human-in-the-loop to systems that operate without any human intervention. The design of these systems generally involves decomposing the mission needs into sets of scenarios that result in trade studies that lead to an optimized solution with key performance requirements. Draper continues to advance the field of autonomy through research in the areas of mission planning, sensing and perception, mobility, learning, real-time performance evaluation and human trust in autonomous systems.
Draper develops precision instrumentation systems that exceed the state-of-the-art in key parameters (input range, accuracy, stability, bandwidth, ruggedness, etc.) that are designed specifically to operate in our sponsor’s most challenging environments (high shock, high temperature, radiation, etc.). As a recognized leader in the development and application of precision instrumentation solutions for platforms ranging from missiles to people to micro-Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Draper finds or develops state-of-the-art components (gyros, accelerometers, magnetometers, precision clocks, optical systems, etc.) that meet the demanding size, weight, power and cost needs of our sponsors and applies extensive system design capabilities consisting of modeling, mechanical and electrical design, packaging and development-level testing to realize instrumentation solutions that meet these critical and demanding needs.
Draper has developed mission-critical fault-tolerant systems for more than four decades. These systems are deployed in space, air, and undersea platforms that require extremely high reliability to accomplish challenging missions. These solutions incorporate robust hardware and software partitioning to achieve fault detection, identification and reconfiguration. Physical redundancy or multiple, identical designs protect against random hardware failures and employ rigor in evaluating differences in computed results to achieve exact consensus, even in the presence of faults. The latest designs leverage cost-effective, multicore commercial processors to implement software-based redundancy management systems in compact single-board layouts that perform the key timing, communication, synchronization and voting algorithm functions needed to maintain seamless operation after one, two or three arbitrary faults of individual components.