The private space company Sierra Nevada Corporation announced today that this mini-spaceplane, the Dream Chaser, will be launched in orbit on top of the United Vault's upcoming Vulcan Centaur rocket by the United Launch Alliance. The Dream Chaser has yet to find space, but once it is operational, it will help ferry cargo and science experiments to astronauts aboard the International Space Station between 2021 and 2024.
The Sierra Nevada Corporation ( SNC) is one of three companies commissioned by NASA to periodically launch the ISS to ensure that the station is fully stocked with equipment. Freight missions are all part of NASA's Commercial Resupply Services Program, one of several space agency initiatives intended to offload space transportation to the private aerospace industry. The other two companies in the program, SpaceX and Northrop Grumman, have been launching cargo at the station since 2012, thanks to a preliminary round of contracts. But NASA awarded a second round of contracts in 2016, adding SNC to the supplier pool.
In development since 2004, the Dream Chaser looks a lot like a Space Shuttle miniature. The plan was for the spaceplane to fly into orbit vertically on top of a rocket and then meet the ISS. Astronauts aboard the station will use the robotic arm to hold the spaceplane and place it in an available docking port. Once all of these cargoes are completed and the mission is complete, Dream Chaser will depart from the ISS and restore Earth's atmosphere. Unlike other space capsules that use parachutes to land, the Dream Chaser can land on an airplane, which runs horizontally along a path. the foreseeable future, "SNC CEO Fatih Ozmen said at a news conference announcing Vulcan's selection for NASA, and the team also received initial development funding from the space agency to but eventually awarded contracts to SpaceX and Boeing to send people to the space station. and the company has now been tasked with launching a total of 12,000 pounds of cargo on a minimum of six supply missions for NASA. The company maintains that there is still the possibility that people will be flying the Dream Chaser in the future.  In fact, the SNC maintains that the Cargo Dream Chaser can carry people when needed as it has some life support and temperature control systems. "You can really, in an emergency even today, get people down If you have to," John Curry, the program director for Dream Chaser's freight missions, told the conference. "I'm not saying that NASA asked us to do that. I'm just saying the capability is there. So it's not the bridge to a crewed vehicle not far away."
The SNC has other plans for its Dream Chaser, including launching international payloads in the space for the United Nations as early as 2021. But there is still a lot of work to be done before the Dream Chaser is shot upwards in a Vulcan rocket. one thing, Vulcan had to start flying first. ULA had already started bending metal for the rocket, which came out of the company's Atlas V. operation but the first flight didn't have to happen until 2021. The Dream Chaser flies on the second flight from Vulcan. 19659009] "I have been a fan and supporter and reveler of this amazing vehicle from the first moment I saw it," said ULA CEO Tory Bruno at today's meeting. " be able to the Vulcan type of commercial debut with the block of missions under a Dream Chaser is really exciting. "
Meanwhile, the SNC is conducting tests on the Dream Chaser, and it makes the vehicle second free flight in 2017, showing that spaceplane can successfully land from an extremely high altitude. The flight was more successful than the first test in 2013 when the car's landing gear failed and caused the spaceplane to infiltrate the runway at the touchdown. More trials are slated for years to come as SNC prepares for the first launch of Dream Chaser.
Update August 14th, 3:15 PM ET: This article was updated to include additional information from a conference on SNC.