The addition of Lockheed Martin to the Dream Chaser team is interesting in a number of ways. The commercial human spaceflight market is no longer limited to new companies and small players. All of the major US aerospace companies now have a foot in the door. Boeing is developing the CST-100 crew capsule under NASA’s CCDev program. Northrop Grumman owns Scaled Composites, which is building the SpaceShip Two prototype and also a partner in Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch. Orbital Sciences is also a partner in Stratolaunch. And Lockheed Martin is now partnering with Sierra Nevada to help develop the world’s first manned orbital lifting body.
Dream Chaser will be the first time a lifting body has carried humans into space, but the new partnership builds on decades of lifting-body experience from the Martin side of Lockheed Martin. Martin Marietta, one of Lockheed’s heritage companies, built the X-24A lifting body for the US Air Force in the late 60’s and rebuilt it as the X-24B in the early 1970’s. The X-24B had a new shape, derived from wind-tunnel testing, which promised greatly improved lift/drag at hypersonic speeds. Both lifting bodies used the same Reaction Motors XLR11-RM-13 rocket engine, an evolved version of the XLR-RM-5 that propelled Chuck Yeager’s Bell X-1 through the sound barrier in 1946.