Dream Chaser space plane successfully completes test flight

Steve Phelps
November 15, 2017

The Dream Chaser spacecraft made a "beautiful flight and landing" during a second glide test on Saturday, according to its producer, Sierra Nevada Corporation.

The Dream Chaser test article was lifted off the ground with Columbia Helicopters Model 234-UT Chinook.

The unmanned aircraft made a soft landing at Edwards Base last Saturday during the free flight test at the Armstrong Flight Research Center of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Below, photos and renderings of the new spacecraft. NASA said the 2017 free-flight test helped prepare the spacecraft for service under the program in which Dream Chaser, along with SpaceX's Dragon and Orbital ATK's Cygnus cargo ships, will service the ISS through at least 2024. But a year ago, NASA awarded a second round of contracts, in order to cover cargo shipments to the ISS from 2019 through 2024.

Sierra Nevada Corporation said the test was a success and pledged to give more details on Monday. NASA Commercial Crew Program space act agreement partner manager Mike Lee called it "a significant achievement that successfully demonstrated the final phase of atmospheric flight that will occur after re-entry from an orbital mission".

It's an important milestone in the Dream Chaser's development, as Sierra Nevada readies the plane for spaceflight. If it is, Sirangelo said it's unlikely this test vehicle will perform a similar flight, and will instead be placed in "flyable storage". It's also designed with a "lifting body" meaning it can land nearly anywhere.

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The CRS2 contract with NASA is guaranteed for only six flights.

"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.

Analysis of the data collected during that flight is in progress, but Sirangelo felt confident that the vehicle performed as expected.

The Dream Chaser is a fairly unique vehicle compared to the other two companies' spacecraft.

SNC hopes to fly the first Dream Chaser to the ISS as early as 2020. The Dream Chaser, however, which is meant to launch on top of an Atlas V rocket, glides down to Earth like a plane after reentering the atmosphere, landing horizontally on a runway.

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