PASADENA, Calif. — Sierra Space is creating an astronaut training program led by a company executive and former NASA astronaut as a next step in developing a manned version of its Dream Chaser vehicle and a commercial space station.
The company announced on June 14 that it would open a commercial human spaceflight training center and astronaut training academy at its offices at the Kennedy Space Center. Janet Kavandi, a former NASA astronaut and president of Sierra Space, will lead the center.
“The commercialization of space, starting with low Earth orbit, will require an innovative new approach to the selection, training and preparation of the vast numbers of women and men we will need to live and work in space. Sierra Space CEO Tom Vice said in a statement. “Janet has an unparalleled level of expertise and experience that uniquely qualifies her for this unique role.”
Kavandi, a former NASA astronaut, flew on three shuttle missions and served as the deputy chief of the astronaut office and director of the flight crew. She later served as director of NASA’s Glenn Research Center before joining the Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) in 2019. SNC dropped Sierra Space as a standalone company in 2021.
The center will train three types of astronauts. One will be professional astronauts, analogous to NASA astronauts who will operate the Orbital Reef commercial space station that Sierra Space is developing along with Blue Origin and others. A second type of astronauts are ‘specialists’ who receive training to do research and other work on the station. A third are “experiential” astronauts, similar to space tourists.
The professional astronauts would undergo 12 to 18 months of training, Kavandi said in a Q&A distributed by the company. Specialists would need three to six months, while experiential astronauts would need “more modest training,” she said.
Sierra Space expects to begin selecting astronauts for training in 2023 and is currently establishing a medical advisory board to support that selection process. The first class astronauts will begin training in early 2024. “This keeps us on track to begin flying astronauts by 2026, in support of the start of Orbital Reef construction,” Kavandi said.
In addition to work on Orbital Reef, Sierra Space is working on a manned version of its Dream Chaser vehicle. The company said in announcing its astronaut training center that the crewed Dream Chaser passed a system requirement review earlier this month, with a maiden flight scheduled for 2026.
Kavandi said Sierra Space is still working on its astronaut selection strategy, but said the company plans to select some of its employees for training. “Every Monday we have an induction for new hires and I always make it clear when I speak to new team members that we will be taking at least some people from within the company to help us staff destinations on the track.”