Major Projects

Leading the nation's most notable aerospace projects

Colorado's major aerospace contractors are leading the nation's major aerospace projects on behalf of NASA or the U.S. Government. 

  • Spacecraft
  • Satellites
  • Command & Control
  • Launch
  • Space Habitats

Louisville-based Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) Space Systems is developing the Dream Chaser spacecraft through significant collaboration with other Colorado-based aerospace companies. Owned and operated by SNC, the Dream Chaser spacecraft is a reusable, multi-mission, space utility vehicle. It is capable of transportation services to and from low-Earth orbit, where the International Space Station resides, and is the only commercial, lifting-body vehicle capable of a runway landing. The Dream Chaser Cargo System was selected by NASA to provide cargo delivery and disposal services to the space station under the Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract.  

Lockheed Martin built the Mars lander spacecraft for NASA’s InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) mission. InSight is a NASA Discovery-class mission to understand the processes that shaped rocky planets such as Mars and Earth. Launched in 2018, the Lockheed Martin team operated the spacecraft on its seven-month journey to Mars, successfully landed the spacecraft on the surface, and continues to provide surface operations.

Ball Aerospace will provide the spacecraft and mission integration for NASA’s Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) Mission to explore black holes. The mission, slated to launch in 2020, will allow astronomers to explore the hidden details of some of the most extreme and exotic astronomical objects, helping scientists to better understand the origin of our universe.

NASA’s Mars 2020 mission will be launched by ULA in 2020, with the Mars rover scheduled to land in 2021 for a two-year exploration of the Martian surface. Lockheed Martin will build the aeroshell and heat shield which will protect the rover during its journey to Mars and descent to the planet’s surface. SNC’s Space Systems will build critical hardware for the rover, including the descent brake and actuators for the robotic arm and sample cache system. unar Gateway prototypes and concepts for deep space habitats on Mars, as part of NASA’s Next Space Technologies Exploration Partnership-2 (NextSTEP-2), a program to produce habitats that could support astronauts working and living outside Earth’s orbit. Work under the Phase II contract will include building a full-scale ground prototype of the main habitable volume.

Colorado’s aerospace companies played a key role in the development of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which was the first to successfully fly by Pluto in 2015. 

Lockheed Martin is building the Orion exploration spaceship, NASA’s first spacecraft designed to transport humans to destinations beyond LEO, such as the Moon and Mars. Lockheed Martin’s new Orion Integrated Test Lab is the first testing facility of its kind for a NASA human-rated spacecraft built on a contractor’s campus. Following Orion’s highly successful, first test flight in 2014, the spacecraft’s next flight will be Exploration Mission-1, projected to launch in 2020 on NASA’s new Space Launch System rocket.

Lockheed Martin built NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, which is an asteroid sample return mission. Launched in 2016, the Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security-Regolith Explorer will study and return a sample of carbonaceous asteroid to Earth for detailed analysis in 2023.

Ball Aerospace will design and develop NASA’s Wide Field Instrument (WFI) Opto-Mechanical Assembly for the WFIRST mission. WFIRST will advance our understanding of the nature of dark energy and dark matter and provide unparalleled views of the outer solar system, planets around other stars, and the stellar populations of nearby and distant galaxies. Ball will support the optical-mechanical assembly, integration and test of WFI, providing the stable structure and thermal environment that enables the wide field, high quality observations of WFI.

Lockheed Martin is developing the next-generation geostationary weather satellites, the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R Series (GOES-R), which includes GOES-R (launched in 2016), GOES-S (launched in 2018), GOES-T, and GOES-U. The GOES satellites provide critical, real-time observations for forecasts and warnings to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service and other public and private sectors.

Lockheed Martin is helping the U.S. Air Force modernize today’s GPS satellite constellation with new technology and capabilities, building up to 32 next-generation GPS III satellites at its Jefferson County facility. The most powerful GPS satellite ever designed, GPS III will provide three times more accuracy, up to eight times improved anti-jamming capabilities and a new civil signal compatible with other international navigation satellite systems. The new GPS III satellites began launching December 2018.

Ball Aerospace designed, built, and tested the JPSS-1 spacecraft, a successor to the Suomi National Polar-Orbiting Partnership program. Launched in 2017, JPSS is the nation’s next- generation of polar-orbiting environmental satellites and is a collaborative program between NOAA and NASA. Ball also integrated all five of the spacecraft’s instruments, and is performing satellite-level testing and launch support. Ball’s Ozone Mapping Profiler Suite instrument will fly on JPSS-1 and all JPSS follow-on spacecraft. Raytheon built the JPSS Common Ground System, which provides command, control, communications, data processing, and product delivery.

Microwave (WSF-M) – WSF-M is a DoD program to address critical space-based environmental monitoring (SBEM) requirements, providing the warfighter with environmental intelligence to address three critical SBEM gaps: ocean surface vector winds, tropical cyclone intensity, and LEO energetic charged particle characterization (a space weather gap). Ball Aerospace is the prime contractor for the WSF-M mission and will deliver the payload, spacecraft and a fully integrated space vehicle to launch.


In 2018, Raytheon Company’s GPS Next-Generation Operational Control System (GPS OCX), supported the launch of the U.S. Air Force’s first modernized GPS satellite into space, maneuvering the GPS III satellite into its final orbit. GPS OCX is the enhanced ground control segment of a U.S. Air Force-led effort to modernize America’s GPS system. Together with next-generation satellites, GPS OCX will provide improved accuracy and be able to fly more than twice as many satellites, increasing coverage in hard-to-reach areas, and offering the highest level of cybersecurity protections of any DoD space system to date.

United Launch Alliance

With more than 1,100 employees headquartered in Centennial, ULA is the nation’s most experienced space launch company with more than 130 consecutive successful launches. In 2019, ULA will begin flights of its Atlas V rocket carrying Boeing’s Starliner capsule in support of NASA’s Commercial Crew program which will return astronauts to space from U.S. soil. ULA is also developing the next-generation Vulcan Centaur rocket, combining the proven heritage of ULA’s Atlas and Delta rockets with new technologies and innovative features to deliver a reliable and cost-effective launch service.



SNC and Lockheed Martin began construction on Lunar Gateway prototypes and concepts for deep space habitats on Mars, as part of NASA’s Next Space Technologies Exploration Partnership-2 (NextSTEP-2), a program to produce habitats that could support astronauts working and living outside Earth’s orbit. Work under the Phase II contract will include building a full-scale ground prototype of the main habitable volume.