SNC's Dream Chaser Takes Step Forward to Commercial Cargo

SNC brought Dream Chaser to the Armstrong Flight Research Center in January 2017 in preparation for the free-flight test. They're created to be used 15 or more times and have autonomous launch, flight and landing capabilities, according to Sierra Nevada Corp.

As mentioned earlier, Dream Chaser has been lifted by a helicopter and managed to fly more than 10,000 feet in altitude before being dropped from the helicopter.

"We are announcing today a successful atmospheric flight test of Dream Chaser, and it is in our minds a signal that our program has moved another step closer to operations and orbital flight", said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of Sierra Nevada Corporation's Space Systems unit. The company says it will release more information about the test Monday afternoon. NASA funded several companies, including SNC, through a succession of development activities in the first half of the decade, one of which was the Commercial Crew Integrated Capabilities (CCiCAP) program. Currently Orbital ATK and SpaceX run resupply missions to the ISS, but those contracts are up come 2018, leaving room for Sierra Nevada to swoop in.

The spacecraft is still in its prototype phase so any data gathered from the test will help influence the final design of Dream Chaser.

This is significant for the aerospace manufacturer since its last free-flight test in 2013 resulted in minor damage when a problem with the deployment of its left landing gear caused the plane to skid off the runway. The successful flight had no passengers on board, and the vehicle flew itself instead of being controlled remotely. Those missions will land at Kennedy Space Center.

"The Dream Chaser flight test demonstrated excellent performance of the spacecraft's aerodynamic design and the data shows that we are firmly on the path for safe, reliable orbital flight", Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC's Space System business area, said in a November 13 press release. It's also designed with a "lifting body" meaning it can land nearly anywhere. During a tow test, a pick-up truck drags the spacecraft up to 60 miles per hour, then releases it and lets the vehicle stop itself. The spacecraft will launch on Atlas V rockets built by the United Launch Alliance and make runway landings.

  • Joe Gonzales