Rocket Lab and Sierra Space have both signed agreements with the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to look into how their respective flight systems — Rocket Lab’s Electron and Neutron rockets and Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser spaceplane — could be used for superfast cargo delivery on Earth.
The agreements are called Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs). They are a way for the government and non-government entities like startups and private companies to work together on research and development projects. The U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), an agency under the DOD, is in charge of these CRADAs.
Under the agreement, Sierra Space and the military will work together to look into how to use the military’s Dream Chaser plane for hypersonic space travel to deliver cargo and people to Earth. Under the agreement, Rocket Lab will work with the military to look into how the Electron and Neutron launch vehicles could also be used to deliver cargo. Electron has been to orbit many times with no problems, but Neutron and Dream Chaser are still in the works.
“Point-to-point space travel gives us a new way to move equipment around the world in hours,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said in a statement. “This means that we can respond faster to global emergencies and natural disasters.” “We’re excited to work with USTRANSCOM on this forward-looking, innovative research programme that could change how the Department of Defense thinks about logistics response options in the long run.”
The two CRADAs aren’t just for transportation vehicles. The military is also interested in how cargo capsules, like Sierra Space’s Shooting Star cargo module and Rocket Lab’s Photon spacecraft, can be used to make ultra-fast logistics possible.
The two agreements are part of the Air Force’s Rocket Cargo project, which started in June of last year. The goal of the project is to find out how tech from the space industry can be used to help the military get things quickly and cheaply. It’s just the latest time the government has asked a private company to help with research instead of making the tech itself. Eventually, the government wants to use this project and others like it to “be the first customer to buy the new commercial capability through service leases.”
In a statement about the new Vanguard programme, the Air Force admits that “delivering cargo by rocket is not a new idea.” But it goes on to say that the sharp drop in launch costs and the ability to carry more weight have made rocketry a more attractive option for delivering things on Earth.