Space company with Dane County ties working to develop new rocket engines gets millions for federal contract

MIDDLETON, Wis. — An aerospace company with ties to Dane County plans to use millions in federal funding to continue its research into new technologies and advanced rocket components, company leaders said.

Sierra Space was recently awarded a $20,200,000 contract with the federal government to work on the development of the Advanced Upper Stage Rocket Engine (VR35K-A). Sen. Tammy Baldwin joined Tom Crabb — general manager of Sierra Space’s space applications sector — for a tour of the company’s Middleton facility following the announcement of the finalized contract.

Engineers at Sierra Space are co-investing with the Air Force Research laboratory in an effort to update the nation’s upper-stage rocket engines as most that are currently in use were developed in the 1950s.

“We’re not just talking about one vehicle or one system or one spacecraft, we’re talking about an entire platform that helps people access and operate in space, and really our goal is to focus on how we can use space to generate new products, generate new capabilities that actually come back and benefit humans on Earth,” Crabb said.

In addition to furthering the U.S.’s goals for space travel, Crabb said the company’s long-term goal is to develop new opportunities for commercialization in space, including research facilities where advances in medicines, biopharma, and material development.

Opening up the great beyond to tourism isn’t out of the question either.

“I want to see sports in space so that everyone can go access,” Crabb said. “We’re working on the dream chasers that can fly cargo up and down from space and land on a runway; where people can go up and down from space on a crew version of that dream chaser and land on a runway and then go home.”

Additional work on the VR35K-A rocket project will be performed in Baraboo. It’s expected to wrap up by the end of 2024. According to a press release from Sen. Baldwin’s office, the project has helped support more than 100 new jobs in Baraboo.