On Saturday, private spaceflight association Sierra Nevada announced that a Dream Chaser spaceplane had successfully glided and landed on a runway after being expelled from a helicopter. The stunt, finished during Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California, is famous as a free-flight exam and is meant to exam out a vehicle’s alighting capabilities. It’s an critical miracle in a Dream Chaser’s development, as Sierra Nevada readies a craft for spaceflight.
Resembling a mini Space Shuttle, a Dream Chaser will shortly be used to send load to and from a International Space Station as partial of NASA’s Commercial Cargo Program. Right now, dual companies — SpaceX and Orbital ATK — reason contracts with NASA to intermittently resupply a hire by 2018. But final year, NASA awarded a second turn of contracts, in sequence to cover load shipments to a ISS from 2019 by 2024. Sierra Nevada was picked for that round, along with SpaceX and Orbital ATK again. The association expects to start load missions someday in 2020.
The Dream Chaser is a sincerely singular car compared to a other dual companies’ spacecraft. Both SpaceX and Orbital ATK grown wingless load capsules that launch to a hire on tip of a companies’ rockets. Orbital ATK’s plug — famous as Cygnus — is afterwards designed to bake adult in a Earth’s atmosphere once it leaves a station, while SpaceX’s Dragon load plug can tarry a skirmish to Earth, regulating parachutes to land in a ocean. The Dream Chaser, however, that is meant to launch on tip of an Atlas V rocket, glides down to Earth like a craft after reentering a atmosphere, alighting horizontally on a runway.
Originally, Sierra Nevada had hoped a Dream Chaser would lift astronauts, and not only cargo, to a ISS. Back in 2010, NASA awarded a association $20 million to rise a Dream Chaser as a crewed vehicle, and Sierra Nevada did a ton of tests over a subsequent couples of years to prepared a booster for carrying passengers. But in 2014, NASA didn’t collect a Dream Chaser to do crewed flights to a ISS, going with SpaceX and Boeing’s due vehicles instead. Since then, Sierra Nevada has been modifying a Dream Chaser to only lift cargo, yet a association is withdrawal a choice open to rise a crewed chronicle of a car in a future.
This weekend’s free-flight exam was a second one that Sierra Nevada has finished with Dream Chaser. The initial one, behind in 2013, didn’t go all that smoothly: a vehicle’s alighting gears failed, causing a spaceplane to crash-land and afterwards movement off a runway. This alighting and flight, however, was deemed a success, according to Sierra Nevada. The exam car was forsaken from an altitude of a small reduction than 12,500 feet and reached a limit speed of 330 miles per hour during a 60-second flight. “Everything went really good for us,” Mike Sirangelo, corporate clamp boss of Sierra Nevada Corporation, pronounced during a follow-up press discussion this afternoon. “Overall a parameters in a exam were met or exceeded in a minds.”
Sierra Nevada doesn’t design to do any additional flights with this exam car if a information from this eventuality is good, yet a association says this sold Dream Chaser could fly again if needed. The information collected from this exam will afterwards be used to labour a growth of a company’s initial car that will go to orbit, that is now underneath construction. That Dream Chaser will also go by endless contrast before a initial moody to space, that will be a company’s initial operational moody for NASA.
Though, it’s not only NASA that skeleton to use a spaceplane: the United Nations also has a understanding with Sierra Nevada to fly payloads to circuit from other countries on a Dream Chaser, starting someday in 2021. And Sierra Nevada hopes to find other business for a car in a future, too. So once this spaceplane is prepared for spaceflight, it could have a lot of work to do.
Update Nov 13th, 4:45PM ET: This essay was refurbish to embody new information from a Sierra Nevada press conference.
Do you have an unusual story to tell? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org