Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president and head of space systems for the Sierra Nevada Corp., developer of the Dream Chaser space shuttle, met with Rice science and engineering students April 10 at Brockman Hall to discuss the future of space travel and the roles they may play.
At a press event hosted earlier in the day by the Rice Space Institute (RSI), the Houston Airport System and Sierra Nevada signed a letter of intent to explore development opportunities that would likely include landing the low-Earth-orbit craft at the proposed Houston Spaceport at Ellington Field.
Sirangelo expressed the hope that Rice would lead local efforts to make the spaceport a reality. “For us to plan for the next 10 or 20 years of how we might go to space — (NASA’s) shuttle flew for over 30 years — we need to bring along that next generation of students,” he said. “It has been an integral part of my plan from the very beginning to involve the best universities in the country in what we’re doing. … We feel fortunate to have a twofer here. Not only do we get a great airport system, but we also now have access to the network of universities led by Rice.”
“As an educator in this area, I’m very excited about the prospects and it’s a great honor to be involved,” said RSI Director David Alexander, a Rice professor of physics and astronomy.
Sirangelo said the Dream Chaser’s first unmanned test launch is scheduled for November 2016, to be followed by the first manned test flight. The orbital craft is designed to launch atop a rocket and land on a runway no longer than those required to land a 737 aircraft. Ellington Field would be one of a number of landing sites for the shuttle, which can carry a crew of seven.