CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Sierra Nevada Corp. free flew an unmanned mini-space shuttle on Saturday under the blue skies of southern California concluding with a pinpoint touchdown upon the dry lake bed of Edwards, AFB.
Forty years following the first free flight tests of NASA’s own space shuttle orbiter, Sierra Nevada is preparing the Dream Chaser for its first spaceflight in 2019. SNC is under contract with NASA to prepare the reusable craft for its first cargo and supply mission flight to the International Space Station.
Saturday’s landing test demonstrated how the delta-winged shuttle would handle the final flight profile during its return from a future spaceflight. The Dream Chaser will only be capable of trips into low Earth orbit and is designed to dock with the orbiting laboratory.
“The flight test helped advance the vehicle under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program space act agreement, as well as helped prepare the vehicle for service under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2 program,” NASA spokesperson Leslie Williams stated on Saturday. “The testing will validate the aerodynamic properties, flight software and control system performance of the Dream Chaser.”
The flight test involved using a Columbia Helicopters Model 234-UT Chinook to carry the test craft suspended by a huge cable up to an altitude several thousand feet above Edwards. The successful landing now paves the way for a second drop test in early 2018.
SNC vice president and former shuttle commander Steve Lindsay said in August each spacecraft will have a designed minimum life of 15 missions, and will outlive the life of the current space station. “We have designs on flying long past space station, and basically being a permanent presence in low Earth orbit,” Linday stated.
Dream Chaser will be capable of ferrying a crew of two to seven astronauts and cargo to any orbital location following launch a top a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral. The craft will then return home with a main gear touchdown at the Kennedy Space Center’s three mile long runway.
“The data that SNC gathered from this test campaign will help influence and inform the final design of the cargo Dream Chaser, which will fly at least six cargo delivery missions to and from the space station by 2024,” Williams added.
(Charles A. Atkeison reports on aerospace and technology. Follow his updates via social media @Military_Flight.)