NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Parts for another spacecraft are being manufactured at the Michoud Assembly Facility. The Dream Chaser is a space plane competing to be NASA's next "low Earth orbit (LEO) vehicle. FOX 8 visited the site Tuesday to see how Louisiana's long-standing roll in space exploration continues to develop.
Surrounded by the wetlands of eastern New Orleans, the Michoud Assembly Facility is a window to the past and a link to the future.
"There is nothing here in our world that really hasn't been enabled by the many, many years of the U.S. space program that has happened before us," said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of Sierra Nevada Corporation. "Our vehicle doesn't go beyond low Earth orbit. We are not going to the Moon or Mars. We are really trying to make orbit around Earth accessible and better for our country and all the people that they work with."
Lockheed Martin will build most of the components.
"As we built the last external tank here, the lights went off at MAF. I can tell you today the lights are back on," said Jim Crocker, a vice president with Lockheed Martin. "We are using both of these to level the work force here. Phenomenal synergy."
Machinery at the facility had been used to make parts for fighter jets, and it's already producing parts for the new vehicle.
The Dream Chaser is competing with two other vehicles to be NASA's next transport to the International Space Station. Currently, the United States contracts with Russia to send astronauts back and forth to the station at a cost of nearly $70 million a seat. Sirangelo would not release specific cost, but he said their goal is to keep the cost far below that figure.
"We like to note that we are the only space plane version," he said. "The other two are capsules that have a different purpose."
"I think ours is the prettiest," Crocker said.
Former astronaut and project manager Steve Lindsey says he thinks the design is where space flight will go.
"I think regardless of how the competition goes, I think in the future this is how we will go in and out of space," said Lindsey. "I knew we were in good hands. I can't imagine a better place to be to be building our vehicle."
The first unmanned launch will happen in November 2016, followed by a manned launch soon after. The Orion capsule, designed for more distant missions, launches later this year. Many of its components were also built at the facility.