Dream Chaser Space Plane Passes Landing Test

Deliveries to the International Space Station might be made by a new craft as early as 2019. Saturday's test was of a full scale version of the spacecraft that was dropped from a helicopter to descend and land on its own. The company says it will release more information about the test Monday afternoon.

Last year, NASA awarded Sierra Nevada a contract for at least six cargo flights. On Saturday, the vehicle completed an important milestone in its development.

In 2014, this company lost a tender for the transportation of astronauts to the MSC, which was held by NASA.

SNC then chose to focus on cargo instead of crew.

The flight test also helped advance the vehicle as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program and prepare it for service under Commercial Resupply Services 2 program. "We wanted to be able to do elements of what will be the orbital flight system".

The Dream Chaser is a fairly unique vehicle compared to the other two companies' spacecraft. "The vehicle landed safely, and there were absolutely no issues", Mark Sirangelo, the head of Sierra Nevada Corp's Space Systems Division, said in an interview. Photo credit: SNC website. It has been occupying the same hangar that NASA's Space Shuttle Enterprise used while it was undergoing Approach and Landing Tests in the late 1970s. Enterprise also was not created to fly in space, but only for atmospheric tests.

Engineers work to safe Dream Chaser after a successful runway landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California. No indications have been given as to when the crewed variant could start bringing astronauts to the ISS.

For the second flight test, SNC and NASA incorporated orbital vehicle avionics and flight software for the first time. In the middle of the flight it performed a maneuver, turning left and right and then coming back to the centerline.

Dream Chaser will go through its Critical Design Review (CDR) next year. It's also designed with a "lifting body" meaning it can land nearly anywhere.

Dream Chaser was lifted by a helicopter and flown more than 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) in altitude before being dropped.

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

The Dream Chaser Cargo System will launch atop an Atlas V rocket.

"The lifting-body design gives Dream Chaser a higher lift-to-drag ratio and allows for greater cross-range landing capability, meaning the landing zone (or places where it can land) is greatly increased", said the company.

Vanessa Coleman

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