Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser spacecraft touched down at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California on Nov. 11 in a successful landing at the end of a flight test. The gliding flight test helped validate the control systems, flight software and aerodynamic properties of Dream Chaser and demonstrated its capability for free flight and runway landing.
The flight fulfilled the final funded milestone of the space act agreement that Sierra Nevada had with NASA as part of its Commercial Crew program. Dream Chaser was not selected in 2014 as a final candidate for the program. That honor went to Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. But Dream Chaser was awarded a contract in 2016 to supply the International Space Station (ISS), and this test flight prepares the spacecraft for that role.
"It is very exciting that Sierra Nevada Corporation successfully completed this important free-flight test," said Steve Stich, deputy manager NASA Commercial Crew Program. "The Dream Chaser team has done an amazing job preparing for and executing this test and the Commercial Crew Program has been with them along the way. The flight computers and avionics systems are the same as the orbital vehicle so this test will pave the way for future landings for the International Space Station missions."
For the flight, an uncrewed Dream Chaser test spacecraft was lifted to over 12,000 feet (3,600 meters) in altitude by a helicopter before being released to glide on the same final approach and landing pattern that it would use on a return flight from the International Space Station (ISS). The test article had an identical mold profile to a flight-ready vehicle. Dream Chaser has fixed-wing lifting body design reminiscent of the Space Shuttle in which the vehicle body itself produces lift.
"We had an outstanding free flight test and are very grateful to both our SNC team and NASA for getting us here," said Steve Lindsey, vice president, Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Space Exploration Systems. "We are excited to complete this critical milestone and can't wait to move forward with the program. This fully successful Dream Chaser free flight test gets us one step closer to space."
Dream Chaser is one of three spacecraft that will deliver supplies to the ISS under the Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) program, along with SpaceX’s Dragon and Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft. The first Dream Chaser supply mission will fly as early as 2020, with the contract extending through at least 2024. With a pressurized and unpressurized cargo capacity of over 12,000 pounds (5,400 kilograms), Dream Chaser will launch atop an Atlas V rocket.
"Dream Chaser is planned to be the newest addition to the fleet of vehicles delivering and returning critical science samples and hardware to and from the International Space Station," said Kirk Shireman, NASA’s space station program manager. "This test is a critical next step for our commercial partners on their path to their first flight."