Lockheed Martin will help Sierra Nevada Corp. human-rate its Dream Chaser reusable human spacecraft under a subcontract announced Jan. 30, drawing on its experience building the Orion multipurpose crew vehicle for NASA.

Sierra Nevada’s lifting-body vehicle, which is partially funded by NASA’s Commercial Crew Development seed-money effort, is due for its first drop test in the next month to six weeks, company officials said in a press conference at the company’s Louisville, Colo., facility.

Lockheed Martin will use its Space Operations Simulation Laboratory in nearby Littleton, Colo., to test full-scale mockups of the Dream Chaser in space station docking and other maneuvers, and build structure for the first orbital test vehicle with its equipment at the government-owned Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

“Lockheed has joined our Dream Chaser team as an exclusive partner to help us with the certification — how do we get this vehicle really fit to fly safely, to pass all the requirements, to do the things that are necessary to fly human beings to orbit on a system that’s supposed to be something that flies frequently,” said Mark Sirangelo, head of Sierra Nevada’s Space Systems unit. “We’re going to combine the knowledge that Lockheed Martin has done through their work to date on the Orion program and around their entire space portfolio, as well as their aircraft portfolio, with what we’re doing.”

Sierra Nevada is working under a $212.5 million Space Act Agreement to develop the Dream Chaser, which is designed to launch on an Atlas V and glide to a runway landing after re-entry using heat-shield technology derived from the space shuttle and — with the new partnership — unmanned re-entry vehicles that Lockheed Martin developed for space science missions.

Jim Voss, Sierra Nevada program manager for the Dream Chaser, said the atmospheric test article that has already flown captive-carry tests from a helicopter over Colorado will be dropped over Edwards AFB, Calif., from a helicopter flying at 12,000 ft. From there it will accelerate to about 300 kt. before touching down for a horizontal landing at 180 kt. Depending on test results, the company plans between two and five more of the tests, which will last 30-40 sec. each.

Sirangelo terms the Lockheed Martin deal a “significant, multimillion-dollar, long-term contract” that is likely to expand as the project advances. Of particular interest is Lockheed Martin’s expertise with composite structures, and its work with NASA on human-rating the Orion deep-space capsule.

“We were competitively selected for this,” said Jim Crocker, vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin’s civil space unit. “We were able to leverage the investments that the company’s made, as well as our deep knowledge of composites for advanced fighter aircraft [and] space vehicles. I think that showed in the proposal.”