Spaceflight Insider

Insider Interview: From Shuttle to Shuttle an interview with Steve Lindsey – Part 2

Dream-Chaser-SNC-spaceplane on orbit above Earth Sierra Nevada Corporation image posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Part two of SpaceFlight Insider's interview with former NASA astronaut and current Sierra Nevada Corporation executive Steve Lindsey. Lindsey detailed what it was like to move from one shuttle program to another. Image Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation

In this second part of our interview with former NASA astronaut Steve Lindsey, SpaceFlight Insider delves deeper into what it was that made his decision to leave NASA and to join Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser program, what it was like to discover that Dream Chaser was not selected to continue under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, and what the future holds for the spaceplane.

Lindsey talked about what it was like for him, a five-time space shuttle veteran, to transition from NASA’s Shuttle Program to the one being worked on by the space systems branch of the commercial aerospace firm Sierra Nevada Corporation. In this second installment, Lindsey details where the Dream Chaser concept originated from and what the future holds for the spaceplane after the announcement that the spacecraft had not been selected to proceed under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

SpaceFlight Insider: We, of course, noted that Sierra Nevada issued a proposal under the second request for proposals under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract. That vehicle looks different than the crewed version – is it based off of the X-38 that was to be used as a lifeboat for the International Space Station?

Lindsey: “We actually are not based on the X-38 – they look very similar. What we’re actually based on is the HL-20, which is also a NASA design.

“It was either in the late sixties or the early ’70s, the Soviets were testing a spacecraft that didn’t come down in a runway – it splashed down in water. A P-3 captured some images of the Soviets pulling this vehicle out of the water. They didn’t know what it was; they handed it to the CIA who, in turn, handed it to NASA Langley who asked, ‘What is this thing? Can you reverse-engineer it?’

“It turned out that it was what is known as a BOR-4, the Soviet version, from the BOR-4. Langley took a look at it and they built a mock-up of it; they put it in a wind tunnel and they did a whole bunch of computational fluid dynamics work and analysis on it and came to the conclusion that this is a really good lifting body shape for spaceflight.

“They then created this thing called the HL-20 which was designed, at that time, to carry 10 astronauts. At one point, I believe it was in the early ’90s, it was actually considered as a people carrier for back-and-forth to the space station. That program didn’t make much traction and they placed it on the shelf.

“About ten years ago, my boss, Mark Sirangelo, went to Mike Griffin who was the NASA Administrator at that time and said, ‘Hey, we really like this HL-20 and we’d like to take a look at it and develop it further through a public-private partnership.’ Once approved, we got all of the Langley data. We got Langley to work on our team, a relationship we have to this day, in fact. Out of this HL-20 – came Dream Chaser.

“Dream Chaser has a lot of the flight characteristics of the Space Shuttle; obviously, it’s a lot smaller. While Dream Chaser is based on that, we believe that the BOR-4 itself might have been based on some early lifting-body research that Dryden was doing back in the sixties.

“The cargo version of Dream Chaser is based on the crewed version; in fact, the cargo version that we are developing now works to maintain the path to flying crew. We introduced it to the public a couple months ago.

“The cargo version has two elements – the first of which is what we’re calling the uncrewed Dream Chaser. That piece is just like the crewed version; it has the exact same shape or outer mold line. It has probably 85 percent common systems.

“The things that we eliminated out of it were like crewed stowage, crewed seats; you have stuff like that which you don’t need for the uncrewed version. We also eliminated the windows, because you don’t need the windows, and that saved us some weight.

“The second element is what we call the cargo module that attaches to the back-end of the Dream Chaser vehicle itself. That cargo module gives us the ability to carry additional cargo up to the space station. It also has solar arrays on it so that we can loiter for extended periods of time. So, with those capabilities, what it enables us to do is to meet the maximum requirement in all cases and actually exceed requirements of everything that NASA is asking for in the CRS-2 cargo proposal.”

Sierra Nevada Corporation Dream Chaser spacecraft drop tests NASA SNC photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

SNC has made steady progress toward having Dream Chaser fly crews to and from low-Earth orbit. Both the European Space Agency and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency have expressed interest in the design. Photo Credit: NASA / KSC

SpaceFlight Insider: The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the European Space Agency have both expressed interest in Dream Chaser – what is the latest information that you can share with our readers about having your spacecraft fly for those agencies?

Lindsey: “Both of those agencies are very interested in Dream Chaser. The only thing that I can say about that is that we are continuing in active, weekly discussion with them on our vehicle – both crewed and uncrewed versions. There is a lot of interest in Europe; a lot of interest in JAXA. We’ve done a lot of work with them and will continue to do so.”

SpaceFlight Insider: Tough question. What was it like when you found out that Dream Chaser had not been selected to move forward under the Commercial Crew transportation Capability?

Lindsey: “When we heard that we were not selected – that we had lost that contract – we were, obviously, very, very disappointed. We felt like we had done everything that was asked of us; we felt like we had a good design, with good maturation and a good plan to get there. So we were really hoping to be chosen and so we were obviously very disappointed when that didn’t happen.

“Having said that, it was tough for a little while, but it was a real credit to our team as they rallied and we knew we were planning on being in the running for the cargo contract as well. So, we very quickly shifted away from that loss and said, ‘it is what it is’ – but we’re going to move on and we’re bound and determined to have this thing to fly in space no matter what we have to do it. So, the team very quickly shifted; we looked at the CRS-2 proposal, our team looked at our crewed Dream Chaser and leveraged everything that we had and basically, in a very short amount of time, we turned around and produced the system that you see today that has been out there publicly.

“I will say that I was very proud of our team, ’cause they just did an exceptional job of getting past that – of putting all of their energies and coming up with what we think is a great solution for sending cargo to the ISS. So, it was tough – but our team rallied.”

STS-121 launches from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39 in Florida NASA photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Lindsey is the veteran of five flights to orbit aboard NASA’s fleet of orbiters. Photo Credit: NASA

SpaceFlight Insider: What are the folks you work with like? 

Lindsey: “They are here because they are passionate about what we do. They believe in it; they want to change. The phrase that they use all the time is that we want to change the world.

SpaceFlight Insider: Touching back again on your unique vantage point, how likely is it that we can see more than one destination to send crews to in low-Earth orbit in the near future?

Lindsey: “I can tell you that I would not have made the jump; that I would not have gotten involved with Dream Chaser if I didn’t think that it had a future that goes well beyond the International Space Station. In fact, that’s why I am so bullish on this design, as well as the lifting body in general for use in low-Earth orbit space.

“With our vehicle, we are able to do all those other types of missions. So, what I see that is happening out there right now is that we are at a tipping point and low-Earth orbit and commercial space operations is about to really, rapidly expand.

“You have Bob Bigelow working out there on his own space station at some point in the future. You see all these efforts being undertaken with low-Earth orbit satellites and things like that. You see SpaceX dramatically cutting the cost to launch – and that is [the] key – because the launch vehicle is the most expensive component of any space system. Elon is changing the market and so there are a lot of other efforts that are also going on. Blue Origin, for example, has had some pretty big successes and you have Paul Allen’s group is working on Stratolaunch… you see all of that going on and I think we are just on the cusp of things dramatically changing.

“I’m pretty excited about the future. I think the success of the early cargo contracts [means] we’re seeing the world changing and I see opportunities for a lot of different nations to now get involved that haven’t done so to this point.”

SpaceFlight Insider: Steve, thank you so much for sitting down and talking to us about what you and the Dream Chaser have been up to!

Lindsey: “Not a problem at all, thanks!”


Steve Lindsey is the Senior Director for Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Space Explorations Systems where he is responsible for the design, development, testing, and operational employment of the Dream Chaser® orbital crew and cargo transportation system. He is a former Air Force pilot and NASA astronaut with more than 30 years of flight test experience.

NASA STS-121, STS-133 Commander Steve Lindsey NASA photo posted on SpaceFlight InsiderLindsey earned a B.S. in Engineering Sciences from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1982. Upon completion of his degree, he was commissioned a second lieutenant and sent to Undergraduate Pilot Training. After receiving his pilot wings, he qualified in the RF-4C Phantom II and served as a combat-ready pilot, instructor pilot, and academic instructor. In 1987, he was selected to attend graduate school at the Air Force Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, where he completed an M.S. in aeronautical engineering. In 1989, he completed the USAF Test Pilot School course at Edwards Air Force Base, California. In 1990, Lindsey was assigned to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida as an experimental test pilot, where he conducted weapons and systems tests in F-16 and F-4 aircraft. While a member of the 3247th Test Squadron, Lindsey served as the deputy director, Advanced Tactical Air Reconnaissance System Joint Test Force and as the squadron’s F-16 Flight Commander. Additionally, he served as an Integrated Product Team leader in the USAF SEEK EAGLE Office where he was responsible for weapons certification for the F-16, F-111, A-10, and F-117 aircraft. In March of 1995, he was assigned to NASA as an astronaut candidate. Lindsey retired from the Air Force in September 2006 after logging more than 7,000 hours of flying time in more than 50 different types of aircraft.

Lindsey became an astronaut in May 1996 and qualified for flight assignment as a pilot. During his more than 15 year tenure at NASA, he completed five space flights and logged more than 1,510 hours in space. He served as pilot on STS-87 in 1997 and STS-95 in 1998, and was the mission commander on STS-104 in 2001, STS-121 in 2006, and STS-133 in 2011. He last served as Chief of the Astronaut Corps, responsible for spacecraft development, crew selection and training, and flight test/crew operations in support of the Space Shuttle, International Space Station, and Constellation Programs.

Upon joining the SNC team, Lindsey led Dream Chaser spacecraft flight operations. In August 2013, he was selected as Dream Chaser Senior Director tasked with managing the Dream Chaser Space Systems development through the design certification phase, including atmospheric flight tests of the Dream Chaser at Dryden Flight Research Center in Calif., and launch of the Dream Chaser into low-Earth Orbit with a crewed ISS docking mission.

The preceding biography of Steve Lindsey was provided by Sierra Nevada Corporation Space Systems


Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

Reader Comments

Hopefully NASA will choose Dream chaser over Orbital ATK on the second round of commercial Cargo. Especially after that stunt Orbital pulled on NASA and other vendors, pointing fingers and playing the blame game on anyone they could find and then trying to get the contractors of the launch pad and NASA to pay for the damage they caused.
Besides, the dream chaser is a more versatile vehicle.

Unfortunately, Tom, logic does not always win out with NASA, not when there’s the politics of OldSpace vs NewSpace in the mix. Don’t be surprised if SNC is on the receiving end of another really big disappointment come September (or so). Regards, Paul.

George H Worthington

Wish them luck!
Wish their little shuttle was a little bigger and ready to carry 30 plus tourists on a falcon Heavy R

That’s what we need to kick off the

Commercial Space Age

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