Monday, December 16, 2013

Willkommen, Dream Chaser

An artist's concept of Dream Chaser docked at the International Space Station. Image source: Sierra Nevada Corporation.

Although it skidded off the runway during its first uncrewed free-flight landing test last October, it's been good news since then for the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser.

The German Aerospace Center and OHB System AG announced November 13 that they will finance a study to explore possible uses of the Dream Chaser by European space agencies.

Named DC4EU (Dream Chaser for European Utilization), the project is to explore ways in which the Dream Chaser® can be used to cover German and European requirements for the transportation of payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) and for deployment as a manned or unmanned space vehicle allowing German and European scientists to conduct research under weightless conditions over extended periods of time. Given the capability which the Dream Chaser® has for reaching orbits at a substantially greater altitude than the ISS, the study will determine the extent to which it is able to supply satellites or remove decommissioned satellites from their orbits.

The partner in this project is OHB’s Munich-based subsidiary Kayser-Threde, which is developing a payload element for capturing satellites. SNC’s Space Systems located in Louisville, Colorado, will be contributing its expertise for these developments and will work with OHB on a program for the long-term deployment of the Dream Chaser by Europe. This project will complement the Dream Chaser work that SNC is doing with NASA in the United States under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

The project participants intend to explore the potential offered by the Dream Chaser® to achieve more intensive scientific utilization of the ISS and opportunities for high-caliber research in weightless conditions in the post-ISS era. Currently, the members of the ISS program are planning to continue operating the ISS up until 2020 with an option of extending this period.

“Looking forward, DC4EU will provide interested researchers and space agencies with a modern successor to the U.S. space shuttle,” says Dr. Detlev Hüser, head of predevelopment of manned space flight at OHB System, going on to say that “a partnership with the United States will allow Germany to continue participating in manned space flight programs even after the decommissioning of the U.S. space shuttle and the ISS.”

DC4EU seeks to systematically maintain and expand research under weightless conditions and manned space flight capabilities. The project initially entails infrastructure design in the Dream Chaser. In a further step, a reference Dream Chaser® mission is to be defined in conjunction with SNC.

With this project, OHB System is tapping a substantially larger area of business in commercial space transportation and manned space flight.

Here in the states, SNC announced today that it had completed its commercial crew development Phase 2 contract with NASA.

Milestones achieved include a systems requirement review, flight simulator development, creation of a vehicle avionics integration laboratory, system definition review, flight control integration laboratory, preliminary design review and the first free-flight test of the Dream Chaser® spacecraft.

The final milestone, free-flight test Milestone 13, was executed Oct. 26, 2013 at Edwards Air Force Base in Edwards, Calif., in conjunction with NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center. The objective of the milestone was to lift the Dream Chaser spacecraft via a carrier vehicle to its designated release conditions then release the spacecraft for an unpiloted free-flight test in order to collect trajectory data during flight.

All expected trajectory and flight data, including the nominal glide slope and other aerodynamic data, were successfully demonstrated and collected in-flight. The Dream Chaser spacecraft’s performance during flight exceeded predictions and requirements. After extensive post-flight analysis by NASA, SNC received the full award value for the milestone. The free-flight test of the flexible, lifting-body vehicle marked the culmination of years of design and scale model testing completed by SNC and NASA’s Langley Research Center on both the SNC Dream Chaser vehicle and the heritage NASA vehicle, the HL-20.

SNC moves on to the next contractual phase, Commercial Crew Integrated Capability.

UPDATE December 16, 2013 6:30 PM has more on Dream Chaser completing CCDev2.

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