Sierra Space Opens Astronaut Training Academy to Support Future Space Station

Sierra Space Opens Astronaut Training Academy to Support Future Space Station
Artistic conception of Sierra Space's upcoming Dream Chaser spaceplane. (Image: Sierra Space)

Sierra Space announced its plans yesterday to launch a spaceflight centre and astronaut training academy, which is good news for all of the adults out there who never got to go to space camp as a kid.

Colorado-based private space company Sierra Space announced yesterday its plans to build and operate the “world’s first fully integrated commercial human spaceflight centre and astronaut training academy.” The academy will recruit and train three different types of astronauts who will work on Orbital Reef, the proposed space station that’s a collaboration between Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Sierra Space.

Professional astronauts will be trained on upkeep of Orbital Reef and the rigours of an extended stay in space; specialist astronauts will be trained on scientific research and manufacturing; and experiential astronauts will be trained for shorter and more casual stints. The company said that Dr. Janet Kavandi, a NASA veteran, will lead Sierra Space’s Human Spaceflight Centre and Astronaut Training Academy, which will be based at its offices at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre.

NASA veteran Dr. Janet Kavandi will lead the Human Spaceflight Centre and Astronaut Training Academy. (Image: Sierra Space)NASA veteran Dr. Janet Kavandi will lead the Human Spaceflight Centre and Astronaut Training Academy. (Image: Sierra Space)

“The commercialization of space, starting with low Earth orbit, will require an innovative new approach to the selection, training and preparation of the large numbers of women and men that we will need to live and work in space,” said Sierra Space CEO Tom Vice in the announcement. “We are really excited to have Dr. Kavandi lead this centre. Janet has an unequaled level of expertise and experience that uniquely qualifies her for this one-of-a-kind role.”

Sierra Space said it will begin the astronaut selection process in 2023 and with training beginning in 2024. The company hopes to get its first astronauts to space in 2026, where they will begin construction of Orbital Reef.

The proposed low Earth orbit outpost is being designed to host a number of activities, from film-making through to scientific research. Collaborator Blue Origin has likened the station to a “mixed-use business park.” Orbital Reef is expected to hold 10 people within a total volume akin to the space available on the International Space Station. Launch and construction is slated for the back half of this decade.

Sierra Space also confirmed its plans for Dream Chaser, a spaceplane designed to transport 12,000 pounds (5,443 kilograms) of cargo to the International Space Station (and Orbital Reef in the future). According to the company, the first test flight of Dream Chaser will take off from Kennedy Space Centre in 2023 (under a supply mission contract with NASA), while a crewed Dream Chaser will supposedly be operational by 2026.

Orbital Reef still feels a bit hand-wavey to me, and perhaps even a bit overpromised. Still, Sierra Space’s proposed timeline and investment into an astronaut academy does lend some credence to its future efforts to build a ground-breaking private space station; the company secured $US1.4 ($2) billion in funding last year, while Blue Origin received $US130 ($180) million from NASA to build the space station. What’s more, Orbital Reef won’t be the only game in low Earth orbit, with future space stations being planned by Axiom, Nanoracks, and Northrop Grumman, the latter two also receiving funding from NASA.

More: Billionaire-Led Crew Prepares for Private SpaceX Mission by Scuba Diving and Climbing Volcano.