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FORT WORTH - Lockheed Martin and Sierra Nevada Corporation unveiled part of their first Dream Chaser spacecraft that might be the next crew vehicle to take astronauts to low-earth orbit.

Only half of the crew cabin was on display at Lockheed's Fort Worth facility on Friday, and it looked more like a boat at this stage than the future of NASA.

'The reason that we believe this vehicle is quite special is that we're able to take off and land on a runway, and we have no hazardous materials on board, so we're able to land on any runway that a 737 can land on,' said Mark Sirangelo of SNC Space Systems.

The Dream Chaser can carry a crew of seven and is considered a descendant of the space shuttle, though this new spacecraft is much smaller. But, like the shuttle, the new vehicle can be reused 30 times.

It's one of three spacecraft bidding to be NASA's next vehicle to take astronauts up. Boeing and SpaceX are creating their own capsule designs to compete with Dream Chaser's winged model.

'The vehicle is also capable of staying in orbit for over a year, so we could do some very long-term experimentation at the same time,' Sirangelo said.

Pieces of the Dream Chaser are being fabricated at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. They're being shipped to Lockheed's Fort Worth facility, where they'll be bonded together into an airframe. Final assembly is happening in Louisville, Colo.

'We're really excited to know that the hardware you see behind us will be flying in space at 17,500 miles per hour,' said Jim Crocker of Lockheed Martin. 'So this will be the fastest piece of hardware to come out of this building.'

The Dream Chaser would launch on top of an Atlas V rocket and could also dock with the International Space Station. Development started nine years ago, Sirangelo said.

Lockheed and SNC will initially build three-to-five Dream Chasers. Right now, each one takes two years to make, he added.

NASA is creating a separate system to send cargo into space.

The space agency is expected to make a decision perhaps as soon as mid-September on which vehicle its astronauts will use in the future.

Either way, the Dream Chaser is scheduled to launch November 2016 from Florida's Cape Canaveral.

Learn more about the Dream Chaser at this link.

E-mail jwhitely@wfaa.com

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