WASHINGTON, April 8 (UPI) -- Former NASA astronaut Lee Archambault will work with aviation and aerospace manufacturer Sierra Nevada Corp. to pursue the company's goal of producing a feasible replacement for the Space Shuttle.
SNC's Dream Chaser aims to become the space vehicle of choice for transportation between Earth stations and the International Space Station. NASA is funding research and development programs at several companies aiming to come up a feasible successor to the Space Shuttle, which retired in 2011.
SNC's Dream Chaser is designed to be lifted into a low Earth orbit at an altitude of about 12,000 feet. Return flights of the aircraft are likely to involve an autonomous re-entry and landing on a runway, as with the Space Shuttle.
Once the program gets going, it's seen likely to generate lucrative private business transporting astronauts and possibly other individuals to the International Space Station and back.
The Nevada company said Archambault joined its Dream Chaser team as a chief systems engineer and test pilot. Archambault will oversee planning and execution of Dream Chaser's flight test programs and SNC's design of the crew interfaces in the Dream Chaser cockpit.
"As a crew member on two Space Shuttle missions to the International Space Station, I was honored to be part of a great NASA team," Archambault said.
"Now, I am fortunate to contribute to the design, development, and test of the next U.S.-built and launched crewed spacecraft, providing transportation to the ISS for our astronauts," he said.
Archambault served as a fighter pilot, test pilot, and instructor pilot during a decorated 28-year career with the U.S. Air Force and NASA.
Archambault is a veteran of two Space Shuttle missions, including STS-117 and STS-119, and logged 27 days in space and more than 5,000 hours in 30 or more different aircraft, including 22 combat missions in the F-117A Stealth Fighter during Operation Desert Storm in Iraq.
SNC space systems chief Mark Sirangelo said, "Lee's long history at NASA, in spaceflight and his expansive flight experience will add significantly to the Dream Chaser program."
The Dream Chaser is about a fourth the size of the shuttle with a smaller wingspan than the shuttle. It is designed to carry up to seven passengers after a series of further tests likely to be scheduled during the summer. It may be a few years before manned flights aboard the Dream Chaser are undertaken.
Other companies seeking to develop a successor to the Space Shuttle include Boeing and SpaceX. Their research is focused on developing space capsules rather than a smaller aircraft version of the Space Shuttle.