Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dream Chaser "Lands" at KSC

A Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser flight simulator "lands" at Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility. Image source: Sierra Nevada Corp. via

MSNBC space correspondent Alan Boyle writes about his recent experience "flying" the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser.

During a recent visit to Sierra Nevada Space System's headquarters near Denver, I saw a few former NASA employees bustling through the halls, including five-time space shuttle fliers Steve Lindsey and Jim Voss (who are now executives at the company).

Another one of the ex-NASA types at Sierra Nevada is the company's simulation manager, Stokes McMillan, who used to work on NASA's X-38 program at Johnson Space Center. "After that program was canceled, I always have looked for something like that — and here it is," McMillan told me.

McMillan's pride and joy is Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser cockpit simulator, a gizmo modeled after NASA's space shuttle simulator. It may not rock and roll like the space agency's motion-base machine, but it has big projection screens, computerized control dials and a joystick-based flight system that give you the feeling that you're actually flying. Even I was able to land the darn thing on a virtual Kennedy Space Center airstrip, with lots of coaching from McMillan.

Boyle quotes Sierra Nevada Space Systems chair Mark Sirangelo as claiming that Dream Chaser could be used not only for International Space Station crew rotations, but other missions.

One of the reasons NASA got into this program to begin with was to enable commercial space, not just to provide a point-to-point solution for the space station. A lifting-body design like ours has the ability to do servicing, much as the shuttle serviced the Hubble Space Telescope. Our vehicle can stay in low-Earth orbit for many months unmanned if it needs to. We can provide transportation to other destinations in a manner that’s very consistent with what non-professional astronauts might need.

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