Rocket Lab, Sierra Space sign military rocket payload project • TechCrunch


Rocket Lab and Sierra Space have signed separate agreements with the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to explore how their flight systems could be used: Rocket Lab’s electron and neutron rockets, Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser spacecraft, Earth’s on for fast delivery of goods.

The agreements are what are known as Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs), a way to facilitate R&D work between government and non-government organizations such as startups and private companies. These special CRADAs reside with the US Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), an agency under the DOD umbrella.

Under its agreement, Sierra Space and the military will jointly explore using its Dream Chaser aircraft for hypersonic space transport to deliver ground cargo and personnel. According to Rocket Lab’s agreement, it will work with the military using Electron and Neutron Launch Vehicles as well as cargo delivery.

While the Electron has successfully reached orbit numerous times, both the Neutron and the Dream Chaser are still in development.

“Point-to-point space transportation offers a new opportunity to quickly move equipment around the world in hours, enabling faster responses to global emergencies and natural disasters,” said Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck. “We are excited to partner with USTRANSCOM on this forward-looking, innovative research program that could ultimately change how the Department of Defense views logistics response options.”

The two CRADAs are not limited to vehicles. The military is also interested in how cargo pods, particularly Sierra Space’s Shooting Star cargo module and Rocket Lab’s Photon spacecraft, can be used to provide high-speed logistics.

The two agreements are part of the Air Force’s rocket payload project, which launched last June to explore how technology from the space industry can be used to provide fast and cheap deliveries to the military. It’s just the latest example of the government bringing in private industry as a research partner rather than developing the technology itself. Ultimately, the government wants to use this project and others like it to “be the first customer to acquire new commercial opportunities through service leases.”

As the Air Force admits in a statement about the new Vanguard program, “Delivering cargo via missile transport is not a new concept.” However, it goes on to note that the dramatic drop in launch cost, combined with higher payload capability, has made the rocket a more attractive prospect for ground delivery.



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