Published: April 14, 2010

A Colorado-based aerospace company, Sierra Nevada Space Systems of Louisville, is collaborating with students and faculty in the department of aerospace engineering sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder in the development of a new spacecraft called Dream Chaser, which will be used to carry astronauts to space.

Aerospace engineering faculty members Jim Voss and Joe Tanner, who are former astronauts, are advising students on the development of a software package to optimize the arrangement of spacecraft systems vital to astronaut operations. Faculty members Jean Koster and Donna Gerren are guiding students involved with a scale model of the Dream Chaser spacecraft that is being built by undergraduate students and will be used for future research.

Sierra Nevada Corp. has provided a $20,000 gift to the aerospace department to support the undergraduate senior projects program, and has awarded two research grants that total approximately $300,000 to aerospace professors in support of SNC spacecraft development.

"We are excited about working with the terrific faculty and students of CU and in helping to develop the next generation of space scientists and engineers," said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC Space Systems Group in Louisville. "We will benefit greatly from the relationship and the students will have a chance not only to work on a breakthrough flight program but also to potentially help make space history."

The project is one of several hands-on design projects undertaken by students with assistance from Voss and fellow astronaut Tanner. Having both joined the aerospace engineering sciences faculty within the last 18 months, the two bring a wealth of experience to students pursuing careers in human spaceflight.

Aerospace engineering seniors will use the funds provided by SNC to purchase materials to build a dynamic scale model of the Dream Chaser spacecraft. The full-size Dream Chaser is being developed by SNC and will be used to transport crew and critical cargo for NASA to the International Space Station as well as for other missions to space.

The scale model spacecraft will be remotely piloted and dropped from an aircraft to gather aerodynamic data for the landing phase of flight. This research will be done by graduate students under the guidance of aerospace professors Ryan Starkey and Brian Argrow.

CU also is doing research through two grants as part of the SNC team working under a $20 million NASA contract for the Commercial Crew Development Program.

"Our relationship with SNC provides our program and students with new education and research opportunities in the discipline of human spaceflight systems" said Jeffrey Forbes, chair of CU-Boulder's aerospace department.

The two grants were awarded to faculty members David Klaus, who will conduct research associated with human rating of the SNC Dream Chaser spacecraft, and Ryan Starkey and Brian Argrow who will direct research in support of testing the scale model developed by the senior project design team.

The industry-university collaboration is helping to further the development of the Dream Chaser spacecraft that will be used to carry astronauts to low Earth orbit.

"I am really excited to have the opportunity to apply our academic research in human spacecraft design toward development of the Dream Chaser," said Klaus.

Former astronaut Jim Voss has been working with CU and SNC to establish a relationship that ties the strong academic and research capabilities of the university with the space hardware development experience of SNC to develop a new human spacecraft for NASA.

"This partnership between CU and Sierra Nevada is a wonderful example of how our nation can benefit by using the research capability of our universities joined with the industrial strength of the Colorado aerospace industry," Voss said. "We look forward to this and future teaming opportunities between CU and SNC."

For more on this story, see the new issue of CUEngineering magazine at

CU aerospace engineering professor and former NASA astronaut Jim Voss poses with students and a full-sized model of the Dream Chaser spacecraft, housed in a hangar at Centennial Airport. Students outside of the craft are aerospace engineering graduate students Christine Fanchiang and Taylor Donaldson. Inside the cockpit are aerospace graduate students Chad Healy, left, and Ben Kemper. (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)