Dream Chaser Spaceplane Gets ‘GO’ as NASA Awards Trio of Space Station Cargo Contracts

SNC's Dream Chaser Spacecraft and Cargo Module attached to the ISS. Credit: SNC
SNC’s Dream Chaser Spacecraft and Cargo Module attached to the ISS. Credit: SNC

A shuttle will soar again from American soil before this decade is out, following NASA’s announcement today (Jan 14) that an unmanned version of the Dream Chaser spaceplane was among the trio of US awardees winning commercial contracts to ship essential cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) starting in 2019.

In addition to the Dream Chaser mini-shuttle built by Sierra Nevada Corporation of Sparks, Nevada, NASA decided to retain both of the current ISS commercial cargo vehicle providers, namely the Cygnus from Orbital ATK of Dulles, Virginia and the cargo Dragon from SpaceX of Hawthorne, California. Continue reading “Dream Chaser Spaceplane Gets ‘GO’ as NASA Awards Trio of Space Station Cargo Contracts”

SpaceX Sets Dec. 20 For ‘Return to Flight’ Launch and Historic Rocket Ground Landing Recovery Attempt – Watch Live

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced today (Dec. 19) that his company plans to launch an upgraded version of its Falcon 9 rocket on Sunday night, Dec. 20, from Cape Canaveral, Florida – for the first time since it failed in flight six months ago on a mission for NASA to the space station – after successfully completing a crucial test of the rockets engines late Friday night.

Furthermore, SpaceX confirmed it will conduct a historic first ever attempt to recover the commercial rocket’s first stage by a soft landing on the ground at a special SpaceX site called Landing Zone 1 on the Cape’s Air Force Station. Continue reading “SpaceX Sets Dec. 20 For ‘Return to Flight’ Launch and Historic Rocket Ground Landing Recovery Attempt – Watch Live”

NASA Again Postpones Space Station Commercial Cargo Contract Awards, Boeing Out

Will NASA renew SpaceX and Orbital ATK as the favored contractors for the commercial cargo flights absolutely essential to keeping the International Space Station (ISS) amply stocked with science experiments and supplies through 2024 for the multinational crews now celebrating 15 years of continuous human occupation?

Or will a trio of other American aerospace competitors vying for the new government contracts somehow break through? That’s the multi Billion dollar question since the cargo awards are potentially valued at 3 to 4 Billion dollars or more each.

Well despite widespread expectations that the winners of NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) 2 contract for the orbiting outpost would be announced by week’s end, nearly everyone involved will have to wait a few more months while agency officials again postponed a decision in order to ponder the long term implications of “a complex procurement.”

NASA says it needs more time to “assess proposals” and determine which of five private companies will be awarded the governments CRS 2 contracts for the ISS resupply missions.

Although NASA had planned to award contracts to at least two winners on Thursday, Nov. 5, the agency just announced another significant delay for the CRS 2 contract via its procurement website because the decision is “complex.”

“The anticipated CRS2 award is now no later than January 30, 2016 to allow additional time for the Government to assess proposals,” NASA announced on its procurement website.

“CRS2 is a complex procurement.

This new delay follows several earlier postponements already announced this past year.

The two companies currently holding Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contracts from NASA, namely SpaceX and Orbital ATK, are dueling with new bids from Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) and Lockheed Martin.

SpaceX Dragon berthing at ISS on March 3, 2013.  Credit: NASA
SpaceX Dragon berthing at ISS on March 3, 2013. Credit: NASA

Altogether, those five companies are known to have submitted bids for the CRS-2 procurement by the due date of March 21, 2014. Awards were expected in June 2015 but the timing was repeatedly revised.

In the past year, both Orbital ATK and SpaceX suffered unexpected catastrophic launch failures during their most recent resupply flights in October 2014 and June 2015 respectively, which ended in total loss of all the payloads aboard the Cygnus and Dragon cargo freighters. I witnessed and reported on both rocket launch disasters for Universe Today from NASA Wallops in Virginia and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Each company was originally expected to deliver 20,000 kilograms (44,000 pounds) of research experiments, crew provisions, spare parts and hardware spread out over multiple cargo delivery flights to the ISS under the initial CRS contract.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo spaceship dazzled in the moments after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 28, 2015 but were soon doomed to a sudden catastrophic destruction barely two minutes later in the inset photo (left).  Composite image includes up close launch photo taken from pad camera set at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral and mid-air explosion photo taken from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida as rocket was streaking to the International Space Station (ISS) on CRS-7 cargo resupply mission.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo spaceship dazzled in the moments after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 28, 2015 but were soon doomed to a sudden catastrophic destruction barely two minutes later in the inset photo (left). Composite image includes up close launch photo taken from pad camera set at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral and mid-air explosion photo taken from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida as rocket was streaking to the International Space Station (ISS) on CRS-7 cargo resupply mission. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

So NASA truly has a lot on the line while considering CRS 2 and postponing a decision may be wise until after both firms successfully complete their upcoming ‘Return to Flight’ missions – now scheduled for Dec. 3 by Orbital ATK and early January 2016 for SpaceX.

Orbital Sciences Antares rocket explodes moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Orbital Sciences Antares rocket explodes moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

“The anticipated award date has been revised to no later than January 30, 2016 to allow time to complete a thorough proposal evaluation and selection,” says NASA.

When asked for a comment and explanation on the decisions and delay, a NASA spokesperson responded to me as follows:

“This is all we’ll be able to say, for right now.”

“Since the agency is in the process of evaluating proposals, we are in a procurement communications blackout. For that reason, NASA cannot answer.”

However, Boeing has been told by NASA that they are out of the running for CRS 2. Earlier reports indicated that Lockheed Martin is also out of the competition.

But there is still plenty of really good news for Boeing since they were already awarded a commercial crew contract in September 2014 to develop the Starliner space taxi to launch astronauts to the ISS.

The first Boeing CST-100 Starliner capsule is already being manufactured at the Kennedy Space Center, as I detailed earlier on site – here.

For the CRS 2 contract, Boeing submitted a bid to convert Starliner into an unmanned cargo freighter.

Meanwhile Sierra Nevada Corp told Universe Today that their Dream Chaser space plane “remains in contention.”

Dream Chaser is a winged mini shuttle that lost out in NASA commercial crew program competition. SNC submitted a proposal involving an unmanned version of Dream Chaser for the CRS 2 cargo competition building on what they already developed.

“SNC received notification that NASA has delayed the award decision related to Commercial Resupply Services 2 to no later than January 30, 2016,” SNC spokesperson Krystal Scordo told Universe Today.

“SNC remains part of the competitive range. We are proud of our Dream Chaser® Program team and are pleased to remain in contention for this important work in space.”

Unmanned version of Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Dream Chaser space plane proposal for NASA cargo resupply contract docks at the International Space Station. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation
Unmanned version of Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Dream Chaser space plane proposal for NASA cargo resupply contract docks at the International Space Station. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation

Neither SpaceX or Orbital will comment about the details of their CRS 2 procurement proposals to Universe Today beyond stating to me that they submitted bids and await NASA’s decision.

The CRS 2 contract is a follow on to the original CRS contract which was to run through at least 2016.

In the meantime, NASA opted to extend the original CRS contract to around 2018 by granting additional interim cargo flights to both SpaceX and Orbital under terms allowed by the contract.

SpaceX was granted five additional Dragon flights and Orbital ATK was given three additional Cygnus flights, for a total of 10 Cygnus resupply missions through about 2018.

The CRS-2 contract is valued at between $1.0 Billion and $1.4 Billion per year and NASA requires this service from approximately 2018 through 2024 according to the RFI.

NASA expects delivery of 14,250 to 16,750 kilograms per year of pressurized cargo as well as 1,500 to 4,000 kg per year of unpressurized cargo and return or disposal of up to 14,250 to 16,750 kg per year of pressurized cargo under CRS 2.

Watch for my onsite reports from the Kennedy Space Center press site for the Orbital Atlas OA-4 cargo liftoff on Dec. 3.

“We are anxious to get flying again not only for our own sake, but really for NASA and the crew!” Frank DeMauro, Orbital ATK Vice President for Human Spaceflight Systems Programs, said in an interview with Universe Today.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Airframe Structure for First Commercial Dream Chaser Spacecraft Unveiled

The orbital airframe structure for the first commercial Dream Chaser mini-shuttle that will launch to Earth orbit just over two years from now has been unveiled by Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) and program partner Lockheed Martin.

Sierra Nevada is moving forward with plans for Dream Chaser’s first launch and unmanned orbital test flight in November 2016 atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The winged Dream Chaser is being developed under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program aimed at restoring America’s indigenous human spaceflight access to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station (ISS).

Dream Chaser commercial crew vehicle built by Sierra Nevada Corp docks at ISS
Dream Chaser commercial crew vehicle built by Sierra Nevada Corp docks at ISS

Lockheed Martin is fabricating the structural components for the Dream Chaser’s orbital spacecraft composite structure at the NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans, Louisiana.

MAF has played a long and illustrious history in human space flight dating back to Apollo and also as the site where all the External Tanks for NASA’s space shuttle program were manufactured. Lockheed Martin also builds the pressure vessels for NASA’s deep space Orion crew vehicle at MAF.

Each piece is thoroughly inspected to insure it meets specification and then shipped to Lockheed Martin’s Aeronautics facility in Fort Worth, Texas for integration into the airframe and co-bonded assembly.

Following helicopter release the private Dream Chaser spaceplane starts glide to runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 - in this screenshot.   Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.
Following helicopter release the private Dream Chaser spaceplane starts glide to runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 – in this screenshot. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

Sierra Nevada chose Lockheed Martin for this significant role in building Dream Chaser airframe based on their wealth of aerospace experience and expertise.

The composite airframe structure was recently unveiled at a joint press conference by Sierra Nevada Corporation and Lockheed Martin at the Fort Worth facility.

“As a valued strategic partner on SNC’s Dream Chaser Dream Team, Lockheed Martin is under contract to manufacture Dream Chaser orbital structure airframes,” said Mark N. Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s Space Systems, in a statement.

“We competitively chose Lockheed Martin because they are a world leader in composite manufacturing, have the infrastructure, resources and quality control needed to support the needs of an orbital vehicle and have a proven track record of leading our nation’s top aviation and aerospace programs. Lockheed Martin’s diverse heritage coupled with their current work on the Orion program adds an extra element of depth and expertise to our program. SNC and Lockheed Martin continue to expand and develop a strong multi-faceted relationship.”

Dream Chaser measures about 29 feet long with a 23 foot wide wing span and is about one third the size of NASA’s space shuttle orbiters.

“We are able to tailor our best manufacturing processes, and our innovative technology from across the corporation to fit the needs of the Dream Chaser program,” said Jim Crocker, vice president of Lockheed Martin’s Space Systems Company Civil Space Line of Business.

Upon completion of the airframe manufacturing at Ft Worth, it will be transported to SNC’s Louisville, Colorado, facility for final integration and assembly.

Lockheed Martin will also process Dream Chaser between orbital flights at the Kennedy Space Center, FL in the recently renamed Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building.

SNC announced in July that they successfully completed and passed a series of risk reduction milestone tests on key flight hardware systems under its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement with NASA that move the private reusable spacecraft closer to its critical design review (CDR) and first flight.

As a result of completing Milestones 9 and 9a, SNC has now received 92% of its total CCiCAP Phase 1 NASA award of $227.5 million.

“We are on schedule to launch our first orbital flight in November of 2016, which will mark the beginning of the restoration of U.S. crew capability to low-Earth orbit,” says Sirangelo.

The private Dream Chaser is a reusable lifting-body design spaceship that will carry a mix of cargo and up to a seven crewmembers to the ISS. It will also be able to land on commercial runways anywhere in the world, according to SNC.

Dream Chaser is among a trio of US private sector manned spaceships being developed with seed money from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program in a public/private partnership to develop a next-generation crew transportation vehicle to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station by 2017 – a capability totally lost following the space shuttle’s forced retirement in 2011.

The SpaceX Dragon and Boeing CST-100 ‘space taxis’ are also vying for funding in the next round of contracts to be awarded by NASA around September 2014, NASA officials have told me.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Sierra Nevada, Boeing, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, Rosetta, Curiosity, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Scale models of NASA’s Commercial Crew program vehicles and launchers; Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, SpaceX Dragon. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Scale models of NASA’s Commercial Crew program vehicles and launchers; Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, SpaceX Dragon. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Risk Reduction Milestone Tests Move Commercial Dream Chaser Closer to Critical Design Review and First Flight

The winged Dream Chaser mini-shuttle under development by Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) has successfully completed a series of risk reduction milestone tests on key flight hardware systems thereby moving the private reusable spacecraft closer to its critical design review (CDR) and first flight under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program aimed at restoring America’s indigenous human spaceflight access to low Earth orbit and the space station.

SNC announced that it passed NASA’s Milestones 9 and 9a involving numerous Risk Reduction and Technology Readiness Level (TRL) advancement tests of critical Dream Chaser® systems under its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement with the agency.

Seven specific hardware systems underwent extensive testing and passed a major comprehensive review with NASA including; the Main Propulsion System, Reaction Control System, Crew Systems, Environmental Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS), Structures, Thermal Control (TCS) and Thermal Protection Systems (TPS).

SNC former astronaut Lee Archambault prepares for Dream Chaser® Crew Systems Test.  Credit: SNC
SNC former astronaut Lee Archambault prepares for Dream Chaser® Crew Systems Test. Credit: SNC

The tests are among the milestones SNC must complete to receive continued funding from the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability initiative (CCiCAP) under the auspices of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Over 3,500 tests were involved in completing the Risk Reduction and TRL advancement tests on the seven hardware systems whose purpose is to significantly retire overall program risk enable a continued maturation of the Dream Chaser’s design.

Dream Chaser is a reusable lifting-body design spaceship that will carry a mix of cargo and up to a seven crewmembers to the ISS. It will also be able to land on commercial runways anywhere in the world, according to SNC.

“By thoroughly assessing and mitigating each of the previously identified design risks, SNC is continuing to prove that Dream Chaser is a safe, robust, and reliable spacecraft,” said Mark N. Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s Space Systems, in a statement.

“These crucial validations are vital steps in our Critical Design Review and in showing that we have a very advanced and capable spacecraft. This will allow us to quickly and confidently move forward in restoring cutting-edge transportation to low-Earth orbit from the U.S.”

Following helicopter release the private Dream Chaser spaceplane starts glide to runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 - in this screenshot.   Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.
Following helicopter release the private Dream Chaser spaceplane starts glide to runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 – in this screenshot. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

The Dream Chaser is among a trio of US private sector manned spaceships being developed with seed money from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program in a public/private partnership to develop a next-generation crew transportation vehicle to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station by 2017 – a capability totally lost following the space shuttle’s forced retirement in 2011.

The SpaceX Dragon and Boeing CST-100 ‘space taxis’ are also vying for funding in the next round of contracts to be awarded by NASA around August/September 2014.

“Our partners are making great progress as they refine their systems for safe, reliable and cost-effective spaceflight,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

“It is extremely impressive to hear and see the interchange between the company and NASA engineering teams as they delve into the very details of the systems that help assure the safety of passengers.”

After completing milestones 9 and 9a, SNC has now received 92% of its total CCiCAP Phase 1 NASA award of $227.5 million.

“We are on schedule to launch our first orbital flight in November of 2016, which will mark the beginning of the restoration of U.S. crew capability to low-Earth orbit,” says Sirangelo.

Dream Chaser measures about 29 feet long with a 23 foot wide wing span and is about one third the size of NASA’s space shuttle orbiters.

It will launch atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 41 in Florida.

Since the forced shutdown of NASA’s Space Shuttle program following its final flight in 2011, US astronauts have been 100% dependent on the Russians and their cramped but effective Soyuz capsule for rides to the station and back – at a cost exceeding $70 million per seat.

The Dream Chaser design builds on the experience gained from NASA Langley’s earlier exploratory engineering work with the HL-20 manned lifting-body vehicle.

Read my prior story detailing the wind tunnel testing milestone – here.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Sierra Nevada, Boeing, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, Curiosity, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Scale models of NASA’s Commercial Crew program vehicles and launchers; Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, SpaceX Dragon. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Scale models of NASA’s Commercial Crew program vehicles and launchers; Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, SpaceX Dragon. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Private Dream Chaser Crewed Mini-Shuttle Design Advances through Rigorous Wind Tunnel Tests

The private Dream Chaser mini-shuttle being developed by Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) has successfully completed a series of rigorous wind tunnel tests on scale models of the spacecraft – thereby accomplishing another key development milestone under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to restore America’s human spaceflight access to low Earth orbit.

Engineers from SNC and NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia conducted six weeks of intricate testing with several different Dream Chaser scale model spacecraft to study its reaction to subsonic, transonic and supersonic conditions that will be encountered during ascent into space and re-entry from low-Earth orbit.

The tests are among the milestones SNC must complete to receive continued funding from the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability initiative (CCiCAP) under the auspices of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

The Dream Chaser is among a trio of US private sector manned spaceships being developed with seed money from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program in a public/private partnership to develop a next-generation crew transportation vehicle to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) by 2017 – a capability totally lost following the space shuttle’s forced retirement in 2011.

Since that day, seats on the Russian Soyuz are US astronauts only way to space and back.

The SpaceX Dragon and Boeing CST-100 ‘space taxis’ are also vying for funding in the next round of contracts to be awarded by NASA around late summer 2014.

Dream Chaser commercial crew vehicle built by Sierra Nevada Corp docks at ISS
Dream Chaser commercial crew vehicle built by Sierra Nevada Corp docks at ISS

“What we have seen from our industry partners is a determination to make their components and systems work reliably, and in turn they’ve been able to demonstrate the complex machinery that makes spaceflight possible will also work as planned,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager. “These next few months will continue to raise the bar for achievement by our partners.”

To prepare for the wind tunnel testing, technicians first meticulously hand glued 250 tiny sand grains to the outer surface of the 22-inch long Dream Chaser scale model in order to investigate turbulent flow forces and flight dynamic characteristics along the vehicle that simulates what the actual spacecraft will experience during ascent and re-entry.

Dream Chaser awaits launch atop United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket
Dream Chaser awaits launch atop United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket

Testing encompassed both the Dream Chaser spacecraft by itself as well as integrated in the stacked configuration atop the Atlas V launch vehicle that will boost the vehicle to space from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The testing of the Dream Chaser model was conducted at different angles and positions and around the clock inside the Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel at NASA Langley to collect the data as quickly as possible.

“All the data acquired will be used to validate computer models and populate the Dream Chaser spacecraft performance database,” according to NASA test engineer Bryan Falman.

NASA says that the resulting data showed the existing computer models were accurate.

Additonal wind tunnel testing was done at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California and the CALSPAN Transonic Wind Tunnel in New York.

The wind tunnel work will also significantly aid in refining the Dream Chaser’s design and performance as well as accelerate completion of the Critical Design Review (CDR) before the start of construction of the full scale vehicle for orbital flight tests by late 2016.



Video Caption: Engineers used a wind tunnel at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, to evaluate the design of Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser spacecraft. Credit: NASA

“The aerodynamic data collected during these tests has further proven and validated Dream Chaser’s integrated spacecraft and launch vehicle system design. It also has shown that Dream Chaser expected performance is greater than initially predicted,” said Mark N. Sirangelo, corporate vice president and head of SNC’s Space Systems.

“Our program continues to fully complete each of our CCiCap agreement milestones assisted through our strong collaboration efforts with our integrated ‘Dream Team’ of industry, university and government strategic partners. We are on schedule to launch our first orbital flight in November of 2016, which will mark the beginning of the restoration of U.S. crew capability to low-Earth orbit.”

The Dream Chaser design builds on the experience gained from NASA Langley’s earlier exploratory engineering work with the HL-20 manned lifting-body vehicle.

“The NASA-SNC effort makes for a solid, complementary relationship,” said Andrew Roberts, SNC aerodynamics test lead. “It is a natural fit. NASA facilities and the extensive work they’ve done with the Dream Chaser predecessor, HL-20, combined with SNC’s engineering, is synergistic and provides great results.”

Dream Chaser will be reusable and can carry a mix of cargo and up to a seven crewmembers to the ISS. It will also be able to land on commercial runways anywhere in the world, according to SNC.

Left landing gear failed to deploy as private Dream Chaser spaceplane approaches runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2103.   Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.  See video below
Left landing gear failed to deploy as private Dream Chaser spaceplane approaches runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2103. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp. See video below

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Sierra Nevada, Boeing, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, Curiosity, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Scale models of NASA’s Commercial Crew program vehicles and launchers; Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, SpaceX Dragon. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Scale models of NASA’s Commercial Crew program vehicles and launchers; Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, SpaceX Dragon. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Damaged Dream Chaser Can be Fixed and Program to Move Forward with Flight Tests – Video

Left landing gear tire visibly failed to deploy as private Dream Chaser spaceplane approaches runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 – in this screenshot. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.
Watch approach and landing test video below[/caption]

The privately built Dream Chaser ‘space taxi’ that was damaged after landing during its otherwise successful first ever free-flight glide test on Saturday, Oct 26, is repairable and the program will live on to see another day, says the developer Sierra Nevada Corp., (SNC).

The Dream Chaser engineering test vehicle skidded off the runway and landed sideways when its left landing gear failed to deploy at the last second during touchdown on runway 22L at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president for SNC Space Systems, at a media teleconference.

The primary goal of the Oct. 26 drop test was to see whether the Dream Chaser mini-shuttle would successfully fly free after being released by an Erickson Air-Crane from an altitude of over 12,000 feet and glide autonomously for about a minute to a touchdown on the Mojave desert landing strip.

“We had a very successful day with an unfortunate anomaly at the end of the day on one of the landing gears,” said Sirangelo.

Dream Chaser is one of three private sector manned spaceships being developed with funding from NASA’s commercial crew program known as Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative to develop a next-generation crew transportation vehicle to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station – totally lost following the space shuttle retirement.

Following helicopter release the private Dream Chaser spaceplane starts glide to runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 - in this screenshot.   Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.
Following helicopter release the private Dream Chaser spaceplane starts glide to runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 – in this screenshot. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

The unmanned approach and landing test (ALT) accomplished 99% of its objectives and was only marred by the mechanical failure of the left tire to drop down and deploy for a safe and smooth rollout.

SNC released a short 1 minute video of the test flight – see below – showing the helicopter drop, dive, glide and flare to touchdown. The failure of the landing gear to drop is clearly seen. But the video cuts away just prior to touchdown and does not show the aftermath of the skid or damage to the vehicle.

“The Dream Chaser spacecraft automated flight control system gently steered the vehicle to its intended glide slope. The vehicle adhered to the design flight trajectory throughout the flight profile. Less than a minute later, Dream Chaser smoothly flared and touched down on Edwards Air Force Base’s Runway 22L right on centerline,” said SNC in a statement with the video.

The vehicle is “repairable and flyable again,” Sirangelo noted.

More good news is that the ships interior was not damaged and the exterior can be fixed.

Dream Chaser measures about 29 feet long with a 23 foot wide wing span and is about one third the size of NASA’s space shuttle orbiters.

Left landing gear failed to deploy as private Dream Chaser spaceplane approaches runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 - in this screenshot.   Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.
Left landing gear failed to deploy as private Dream Chaser spaceplane approaches runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 – in this screenshot. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

Since there was no pilot in the cockpit no one was injured. That also meant that no evasive action could be taken to drop the gear.

“We don’t think it’s actually going to set us back,” Sirangelo noted. “In some interesting way, it might actually accelerate it.

NASA’s commercial crew initiative aims at restoring America’s manned spaceflight access to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station (ISS) – perhaps by 2017 – following the forced shutdown of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.

Until an American commercial space taxi is ready for liftoff, NASA is completely dependent on the Russian Soyuz capsule for astronaut rides to the ISS at a cost of roughly $70 million per seat.

Because Congress continues to significantly cut NASA’s budget further delays can be expected – inevitably meaning more payments to Russia and no savings for the American tax payer.

SNC was awarded $227.5 million in the current round of NASA funding and must successfully complete specified milestones, including up to five ALT drop tests to check the aerodynamic handling in order to receive payment.

Following helicopter release the private Dream Chaser spaceplane starts glide to runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 - in this screenshot.   Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.
Following helicopter release the private Dream Chaser spaceplane starts glide to runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. during first free flight landing test on Oct. 26, 2013 – in this screenshot. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

This particular vehicle had been intended to fly two test flights. Further drop tests were planned with a new test vehicle to be constructed.

The way forward is being evaluated.

“We don’t think there is going to be any significant delay to the program as a result of this. This was meant to be a test vehicle with a limited number of flights,” Sirangelo said.

SNC and NASA have assembled a team to investigate the cause of the anomaly.

“SNC cannot release any further video at this time,” said SNC.

Dream Chaser is a reusable mini shuttle that launches from the Florida Space Coast atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and lands on the shuttle landing facility (SLF) runway at the Kennedy Space Center, like the space shuttle.

Ken Kremer

Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser Gets Wings and Tail, Starts Ground Testing

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser successfully rolls through two tow tests at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in California in preparation for future flight testing later this year.
Watch way cool Dream Chaser assembly video below![/caption]

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s winged Dream Chaser engineering test article is moving forward with a series of ground tests at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in California that will soon lead to dramatic aerial flight tests throughout 2013.

Pathfinding tow tests on Dryden’s concrete runway aim to validate the performance of the vehicles’ nose skid, brakes, tires and other systems to prove that it can safely land an astronaut crew after surviving the searing re-entry from Earth orbit.

The Dream Chaser is one of the three types of private sector ‘space taxis’ being developed with NASA seed money to restore America’s capability to blast humans to Earth orbit from American soil – a capability which was totally lost following the forced shutdown of NASA’s Space Shuttle program in 2011.

Dream Chaser commercial crew vehicle built by Sierra Nevada Corp docks at ISS
Dream Chaser commercial crew vehicle built by Sierra Nevada Corp docks at ISS

For the initial ground tests, the engineering test article was pulled by a tow truck at 10 and 20 MPH. Later this month tow speeds will be ramped up to 40 to 60 MPH.

Final assembly of the Dream Chaser test vehicle was completed at Dryden with installation of the wings and tail, following shipment from SNC’s Space Systems headquarters in Louisville, Colo.

Watch this exciting minute-long, time-lapse video showing attachment of the wings and tail:

In the next phase later this year, Sierra Nevada will conduct airborne captive carry tests using an Erickson Skycrane helicopter.

Atmospheric drop tests of the engineering test article in an autonomous free flight mode for Approach and Landing Tests (ALT) will follow to check the aerodynamic handling.

The engineering test article is a full sized vehicle.

Dream Chaser is a reusable mini shuttle that launches from the Florida Space Coast atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and lands on the shuttle landing facility (SLF) runway at the Kennedy Space Center, like the Space Shuttle.

“It’s not outfitted for orbital flight. It is outfitted for atmospheric flight tests,” said Marc Sirangelo, Sierra Nevada Corp. vice president and SNC Space Systems chairman, to Universe Today.

“The best analogy is it’s very similar to what NASA did in the shuttle program with the Enterprise, creating a vehicle that would allow it to do significant flights whose design then would filter into the final vehicle for orbital flight,” Sirangelo told me.

NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center welcomes SNC’s Dream Chaser shrink wrapped engineering test article for a flight test program in collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program this summer. Winds and tail were soon joined and ground testing has now begun. Credit: NASA/Tom Tschida Read more: http://www.universetoday.com/102020/sierra-nevada-dream-chaser-gets-wings-and-tail-starts-ground-testing/#ixzz2Yw1peNRJ
NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center welcomes SNC’s Dream Chaser shrink wrapped engineering test article for a flight test program in collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program this summer. Winds and tail were soon joined and ground testing has now begun. Credit: NASA/Tom Tschida

Sierra Nevada Corp, along with Boeing and SpaceX are working with NASA in a public-private partnership using a combination of NASA seed money and company funds.

Each company was awarded contracts under NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability Initiative, or CCiCap, program, the third in a series of contracts aimed at kick starting the development of the private sector ‘space taxis’ to fly US and partner astronauts to and from low Earth orbit (LEO) and the International Space Station (ISS).

“We are the emotional successors to the shuttle,” says Sirangelo. “Our target was to repatriate that industry back to the United States, and that’s what we’re doing.”

The combined value of NASA’s Phase 1 CCiCap contracts is about $1.1 Billion and runs through March 2014.

Phase 2 contract awards will eventually lead to actual flight units after a down selection to one or more of the companies.

Everything depends on NASA’s approved budget, which seems headed for steep cuts in excess of a billion dollars if the Republican dominated US House has its way.

Dream Chaser awaits launch atop Atlas V rocket
Dream Chaser awaits launch atop Atlas V rocket

The Commercial Crew program’s goal is to ensure the nation has safe, reliable and affordable crew transportation systems to space.

“Unique public-private partnerships like the one between NASA and Sierra Nevada Corporation are creating an industry capable of building the next generation of rockets and spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the scientific proving ground of low-Earth orbit,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations in Washington, in a statement.

“NASA centers around the country paved the way for 50 years of American human spaceflight, and they’re actively working with our partners to test innovative commercial space systems that will continue to ensure American leadership in exploration and discovery.”

All three commercial vehicles – the Boeing CST-100; SpaceX Dragon and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser – are designed to carry a crew of up to 7 astronauts and remain docked at the ISS for more than 6 months.

The first orbital flight test of the Dream Chaser is not expected before 2016 and could be further delayed if NASA’s commercial crew budget is again slashed by the Congress – as was done the past few years.

In the meantime, US astronauts are totally dependent on Russia’s Soyuz capsule for rides to the ISS. NASA must pay Russia upwards of $70 million per seat until the space taxis are ready for liftoff – perhaps in 2017.

“We have got to get Commercial Crew funded, or we’re going to be paying the Russians forever,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at Dryden. “Without Commercial Crew, we probably won’t have exploration.”

Concurrently, NASA is developing the Orion Crew capsule for missions to the Moon, Asteroids and beyond to Mars and other destinations in our Solar System -details here.

Ken Kremer

Scale models of NASA’s Commercial Crew program vehicles and launchers; Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, SpaceX Dragon. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Scale models of NASA’s Commercial Crew program vehicles and launchers; Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, SpaceX Dragon.
Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Dream Chaser spacecraft landing on a traditional runway. Dream Chaser is being developed in collaboration with NASA's Commercial Crew Program during the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability initiative (CCiCAP).  Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.
Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Chaser spacecraft landing on a traditional runway. Dream Chaser is being developed in collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program during the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability initiative (CCiCAP). Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.