- Laurence Russell
Sierra Space to open Human Spaceflight Center to train future astronaut corps of new space economy
Sierra Space, a leading commercial space company at the forefront of creating and building the future of space transportation and infrastructure for low-Earth orbit (LEO) commercialization, announced today that it is creating the world’s first fully-integrated commercial human spaceflight centre and astronaut training academy. Dr. Janet Kavandi, a space industry leader and veteran NASA astronaut, will lead Sierra Space’s Human Spaceflight Center and Astronaut Training Academy from the company’s offices at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
Sierra Space is building the world’s first commercial space platform, enabling a vibrant new space economy where companies in multiple industries can develop their next breakthrough products and services in the unique environment of space, delivering the discoveries of tomorrow to benefit life on Earth.
Commercial space transportation and infrastructure
Sierra Space is building Dream Chaser®, the world’s first commercial spaceplane. The company is also developing Orbital Reef, the world’s first commercial space station, in partnership with co-lead investor, Blue Origin.
Dream Chaser® is under contract to perform cargo resupply and return missions for NASA, delivering up to 12,000 pounds of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) per mission. The spaceplane will take its first flight from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in 2023.
A crewed variant of the Dream Chaser® spaceplane is currently in development and will be operational in 2026, having successfully completed its System Requirements Review (SRR) earlier this month. Orbital Reef will be on orbit and operational in 2027. NASA awarded a Commercial LEO Destination contract to the Sierra Space and Blue Origin team in 2021.
Human spaceflight center and Astronaut Academy
Sierra Space’s Human Spaceflight Center and Astronaut Training Academy will recruit, train and prepare the astronaut corps that will be required to support the commercialization of space.
“The commercialization of space, starting with low Earth orbit, will require an innovative new approach to the selection, training and preparation of the large numbers of women and men that we will need to live and work in space,” said Sierra Space CEO Tom Vice. “We are really excited to have Dr. Kavandi lead this center. Janet has an unequaled level of expertise and experience that uniquely qualifies her for this one-of-a-kind role. She is a former NASA astronaut and scientist, a veteran of three space shuttle missions and an inductee into the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame. Janet also served as NASA’s Deputy Chief of the Astronaut Office, Flight Crew Operations Director and Center Director at NASA’s Glenn Research Center. She will do an incredible job training and preparing humanity for this next industrial revolution occurring in space.”
“Our intent is for Sierra Space to stand at the forefront of the commercial space industry,” said Dr. Kavandi. “Our new Human Spaceflight Center and Astronaut Training Academy will pave the way for our company to do just that – by selecting, training and preparing the very best space exploration talent to lead the way in this new era of low-Earth orbit destinations. We are excited to start this effort at the Kennedy Space Center during this truly formative stage in the new space economy.”
Astronaut categories and selection
Dr. Kavandi is envisioning three categories of personnel in the Sierra Space Human Spaceflight Center and Astronaut Training Academy for evaluation and training:
Professional career astronauts, who will spend months in space operating and maintaining the first commercial space station, Orbital Reef. The Academy will train them with skillsets similar to those of NASA’s career astronauts. Sierra Space team members will be among those entering into this training.
Specialist astronauts who are professional customers in other fields who will be trained how to conduct scientific research, manufacturing and other commercial activities on Orbital Reef.
Experiential astronauts, who want to visit Orbital Reef to experience what it is like to live and work in space. This category will require less intensive technical training with a primary focus on ensuring safe operations. These participants, like all astronauts, will require in-depth physical exams and extensive safety training.
Similar to NASA’s astronaut selection process, Sierra Space’s Human Spaceflight Center and Astronaut Training Academy aims to commence the professional astronaut selection process in late 2023, with training for the first cadre of selected astronauts to begin in 2024. The company would be able to start flying astronauts by 2026 to begin construction of Orbital Reef.
In November 2021, Sierra Space secured $1.4 billion in capital, the largest Series A capital raise in 2021 and the industry’s second-largest private capital raise in history. The Series A investment was led by General Atlantic, Coatue and Moore Strategic Ventures, with participation from funds and accounts managed by BlackRock Private Equity Partners and AE Industrial Partners. The funding is accelerating the development of the company’s space transportation systems – led by the Dream Chaser® spaceplane, in-space destinations for LEO commercialization, including Orbital Reef, and advanced technologies and space applications.