Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Perchance to Dream

Sierra Nevada concept art of the Dream Chaser approaching the International Space Station.

Aviation Week reports that Sierra Nevada plans to use Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo mothership to conduct tests of the Dream Chaser spaceplane.

Sierra Nevada is one of the big winners in the second round of NASA’s CCDev program, netting $80 million of the total $269.3 million payout aimed at maturing concepts for private spacecraft to carry astronauts to the International Space Station and other low Earth orbit destinations. Designed for a maximum crew of seven, the Dream Chaser is a lifting body spacecraft based on NASA’s HL-20 crew vehicle, and will launch on an Atlas V.

The atmospheric drop test of the full-scale vehicle, expected sometime in the second quarter of 2012, will assess handling qualities as well as stability and control during an unpowered descent to a conventional runway landing. The design of the low-speed flight control system is being fine-tuned after drop tests of a scale model were conducted in December at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center from a helicopter hovering over the dry lakebed at Edwards AFB, Calif.

The Space Coast might see test launches not long after that.

The Dream Chaser is expected to have a cross-range capability of 1,700 km (1,000 mi.) and with a subsonic lift/drag ratio of 4:0, a “landing will be feasible on 7,000-foot runways,” he says. However, with launches currently planned from Kennedy Space Center’s SLC-41 launch pad (and possibly SLC-39B after conversion), the primary landing site is Cape Canaveral’s 15,000-ft. main runway.

Beyond atmospheric drop tests, further development plans include an un-piloted orbital test flight (OFT-1) boosted by an Atlas V, followed by a crewed OFT-2. The system is aiming for initial operational capability in 2015.

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