Sierra Space CEO talks IPO plans, satellite launch and Dream Chaser

A render of Sierra Space’s Velocity satellite bus

Credit: Sierra Space

Amid preparations for its spaceplane’s maiden flight and an initial public offering as soon as next year, Sierra Space is expanding its satellite offerings.  

Ahead of the much-anticipated solar eclipse, the commercial space unicorn unveiled its aptly named Eclipse line of satellite buses — the main structures of satellites — to serve a wide range of missions in orbits ranging for low Earth to cis-lunar. 

“We’ve actually been waiting for six months, so it’s like, this [name], we really thought about it,” Tom Vice, Sierra Space chief executive said in an interview for CNBC’s “Manifest Space” podcast. “I think the name is very appropriate, because I think it will change everything in terms of the affordability of building the next generation buses for the next generation satellites.”

Valued at $5.3 billion as of September, Sierra Space was spun out of defense contractor Sierra Nevada Corporation three years ago. Touting a three-decade spaceflight heritage, the independent subsidiary is the result of an ambitious early bet by SNC’s billionaire husband and wife team, Fatih and Eren Ozmen. 

Sierra Space touts a diverse space and defense tech portfolio spanning space transportation, space habitation, propulsion and satellites. It’s perhaps best known for its NASA-contracted, reusable spaceplane Dream Chaser which will run cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station and eventually carry humans to and from orbit.

It’s also working on a commercial space station with Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin called Orbital Reef, and in January landed a $740 million high-profile Pentagon contract to develop a constellation of missile tracking satellites for the U.S. 

The Eclipse offerings bring it further into the spacecraft subsystem business.

On Dream Chaser, Vice said he’s “very confident” it will make its first flight in the fourth quarter of this year. He added the spaceplane passed the first phase of environmental testing in March and said since it will be carrying cargo to the ISS on this first demonstration, the company is dependent on NASA’s manifest and it’s working with the FAA to get a reentry license.

Artist’s rendering of Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser spaceplane in this undated handout obtained March 25, 2022.

Sierra Space | via Reuters

“Dream Chaser is also a vehicle that can spend a year on orbit and be an orbiting space station for microgravity research,” Vice said, speaking to the opportunities for R&D and manufacturing that he and the company are betting will materialize in low earth orbit, providing business cases for the space plane as well as its space habitats.

Sierra Space has identified four segments it believes can be served by microgravity to disrupt industry on earth: stem cells, oncology, vaccines and industrial glass. Those markets combined amounted to $900 billion in 2022, according to Vice, and are growing at such a rate to reach roughly $3.7 trillion…

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