Sen— The Dream Chaser spacecraft, being developed by US space company Sierra Nevada Corporation to carry cargo and astronauts, has begun its test flight program with a successful captive carry flight.
May 29 2012 saw the craft lifted aloft by an Erickson Air-Crane helicopter, rather than fly under its own power, to test its aerodynamics. The flight met all the pre-established flight test goals.
The Dream Chaser is being developed under NASA's Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) Program whereby commercial space businesses will transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS).
The test flight marked the 12th milestone under the CCDev Program. The development program will continue building up towards an autonomous Approach and Landing Test later in the summer, to be conducted at the Edwards Air Force Base.
Steve Lindsey, an astronaut who commnaded five Space Shuttle missions, was appointed by SNC in 2011 to run the Dream Chaser's flight operations. Commenting on the flight Lindsey said: "The successful Captive Carry flight test of the Dream Chaser full scale flight vehicle marks the beginning of SNC's flight test program; a program that culminates in crewed missions to the International Space Station for NASA."
The Dream Chaser is a reusable spacecraft that launches vertically and lands horizontally on a conventional runway.
The Dream Chaser is being designed to carry up to 7 astronauts, as well as cargo, into orbit, in particular to and from the International Space Station.
SNC are aiming for the Dream Chaser to be ready to enter operational service by 2016.
With the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011 NASA’s strategy is to use commercial businesses to service low-Earth orbit. Cargo and crew transport is managed by the Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office – C3PO – from the Johnson Space Center. Under C3PO, cargo transportation is organised under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program whilst the transport of astronauts is developed under the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program.
Ed Mango, NASA's Commercial Crew Program Manager, said: "This is a very positive success for the Dream Chaser team and their innovative approach. I applaud and encourage the designers and engineers to continue their efforts in meeting the objectives of the rest of their CCDev2 milestones."
"The success of the Dream Chaser Program is a result of the hard work of an expansive team, which now includes over 12 experienced industrial partners, seven NASA centers, and three universities, all representing more than 25 states. I would like to thank them, our terrific SNC employees, as well as the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport and Erickson Air-Crane for their contributions to the success of this test. It is through partnerships like these that Dream Chaser continues on the path to filling the crew transportation capabilities lost with the retirement of the Space Shuttle Program," said Mark Sirangelo, Corporate Vice President and head of SNC's Space Systems.
The Dream Chaser would use SNC’s Hybrid Rocket Propulsion systems that have many years of development and are also being used to power Virgin Galactic’s sub-orbital craft, SpaceShipTwo. A version of SNC’s hybrid rocket system was also used to power the X PRIZE winning SpaceShipOne.
Other companies awarded Space Act Agreements under the Commercial Crew Development programme include Blue Origin, Boeing, Paragon Space Development Corporation and United Launch Alliance.