German Space Agency Funds Study on Uses of Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser

Dream Chaser undergoing a tow test. (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation)
Dream Chaser undergoing a tow test. (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation)

Tip of the hat to Clark Lindsey at New Space Watch for finding this release.

BREMEN, Germany (OHB System PR) — OHB System AG and the Space Administration of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) signed an agreement providing for the use of funding from the national space program to finance a study to explore possible uses of the U.S. spacecraft Dream Chaser® developed and owned by U.S. company Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC).

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.

  • Dennis

    This has been out for some time now btw. One big questionmark on this imho is wether or not DC is bound to ITAR rules in terms of the DC being shipped to Kourou for launch from ESA’s facility in French-Guiana! My best guess is that ESA would actually want to buy units of this ship and launch it on top of Ariane 5 or something.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Europe is at it again – pissing money down the drain of bad ideas. What is it about sticking wings on a spacecraft that causes so many IQs to drop. Why, with capsule type designs available, and yes I am principally talking about DragonRider, would one choose a vehicle that is intrinsically and by design: less safe at launch, less safe at re-entry, heavier, less adaptable, less mission flexible and more expensive. The space shuttle flying coffin has been retired and good riddance; leaving as it’s legacy the greatest financial and human life disaster in the, admittedly short, history of human spaceflight. Why then is there this unreasonable and ill-conceived desire to pursue such an obviously failed concept. Hopefully Dream Chaser will not be continued in the Commercial Crew program and can be consigned to the shit heap of bad ideas, where it belongs.

  • Hug Doug

    how is it less safe at launch? it’s riding on top of the stack, just like any capsule, and AFAIK, it can abort at any time during the launch, just like Dragon Rider. it pulls fewer Gs during reentry. you could call that safer, particularly for injured people or delicate experiments. – a winged design is desirable precisely for that reason.

    it is heavier, but you’d have to have some solid reasons for calling it less adaptable or mission flexible. Dream Chaser can remove seats to haul cargo, just like the Dragon Rider can.

  • Grant Kask

    Ariane 5 seams to me to be a little overkill for DC to ISS, Ariane 6 might be more practical.

  • Tonya

    Europe will not be looking to launch this themselves on any Ariane. They are quite comfortable with the idea of buying in services as they are, and have done so with the Russians. The Ariane program is now largely isolated from any human rating requirements and has a fairly narrow mission focus.

  • Robert Gishubl

    I am thinking the X-37B would be better for satelite capture as it already has a payload bay and been there done that.
    For the people side DC would be a clear winner over X-37B but would need a lot of adaptation for capturing satelites and bringing them back. The DC cabin crew would be easier to adapt as a space ambulance as the cabin is inline with the aft hatch for easier paitent removal on the ground.

  • Dennis

    For ISS yes, but that is not the only destination really. Ow well, time will tell.

  • Francesco Nicoli

    This is madness. Europeans should heavily investo n Skylon, not on yet another foreign rocket launcher.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Sat on top of a rocket, capsules have a much more neutral aerodynamic profile, DC does not, so more chance for something to go wrong, hence less safe. The complex aerodynamics extend to re-entry too, although I fully appreciate that the reduced g’s is a welcome positive. There is no information on re-entry hot-spots on leading edges, but it’s highly likely to be a issue that this sort of design has to contend with – just a bit of a sphincter twitcher to contemplate while enjoying the low-g induced feeling of comfort. What do you suggest is the practical purpose of greater cross-range, a sight-seeing detour on the way to the landing site perhaps. And how much more precise than land on a sixpence is “better precision for landings”?.

  • therealdmt

    Both space shuttle disasters can be attributed to the design decisions to put the winged orbiter (without a launch escape system) on the side of the launch stack.

    Challenger blew up when an SRB gasket failed, causing hot gases to enter the external tank the shuttle was mounted to the side of to explode.

    Columbia, mounted below much of the external tank, was showered with debris falling off the upper portion of the ET, puncturing a wing and its thermal protection system. The wing hole later allowed hot gases to enter with catastrophic results.

    Dream Chaser, mounted on *top* of the launch vehicle _and_ with a launch escape system that will enable it to pull away from the launcher in case of rocket failure, does not share the designs issues that led to the tragic loss of lives on those shuttle flights.

  • therealdmt

    I agree that Europe should invest in Skylon, but realistically that won’t be ready to fly any time soon.

    Dream Chaser, if funded and baring significant setback (such as NASA pulling funding), should be ready to go in about 3 years. The well-proven Atlas launcher will be man rated for Boeing’s capsule if nothing else, and that should be certified by 2016.

    If Europe is serious about being in manned space flight, they can buy two or three commercially sold Dream Chasers and have their own reuseable space fleet within approximately 5 years. They could even work out a deal to do some or all of the manufacturing in Europe…

  • Linsey Young

    Greater cross range means more (read more immediate) re-entry opportunities. Again, potentially very useful for personnel in need of medical attention.

  • Aerospike

    The Space Transportation System suffered from many design failures (side mount, SRBs, cargo-truck and astronaut-taxi at the same time, maintenance intensive, etc.). Using wings for the orbiter probably was one of the lesser problems.

    Yes, wings add complexity and problems of their own (and have no place on any spacecraft going beyond LEO), but I really wouldn’t judge the safety of winged spacecraft based on the history of the space shuttle.

  • Hug Doug

    Aerodynamic profile during launch is a minor engineering concern. doesn’t make a launch more complex or less safe. the Shuttle had hot spots: and i very much doubt they though of it as “a sphincter twitcher” this is just part of designing a heat shield.

    greater cross-range has enormous practical benefits. it means your reentry point is more flexible, for one thing, and you can direct yourself to a landing. a DC is small and light enough to land at just about any airport, which is great for an emergency situation. compare that to the Soyuz capsules, which have to have a wide area available to land on, or the various US capsules, which often landed many miles “off target” requiring recovery ships to travel to them.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “it means your reentry point is more flexible” – “more flexible” than what exactly; more flexible than precisely calculating de-orbit and re-entry I presume. So if you plan on using the tarot card and dice method of GNC, then having some small amount of extra cross-range might be useful, but if you’re using computers, then not so much.

    “a DC is small and light enough to land at just about any airport, which is great for an emergency situation.” A powered capsule can land on water or land or on any runway, or any road or outside any hospital….which is great for an emergency situation….or potentially on the deck of a ship or some other floating platform, or on a front lawn, or on a tennis court or, on almost any flat area!!!……which is great in an emergency situation.

    “greater cross-range has enormous practical benefits.” Expect that in practice there is absolutely no additional benefit, except when your flight computer screwed up your de-orbit burn and re-entry calcs. And even then, increased cross-range is only of any use in those small number of occasions when re-entry was calculated incorrectly, but not so badly that whatever cross-range you have is sufficient to compensate. Although if your guidance and navigation is screwed, it really just gives you more time to contemplate landing in the wrong place….cue parachutes and crossed fingers.

    So all in all, No, extra cross-range is not genuinely of any operationally practical use.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    I disagree. In all but a few heavily contrived scenarios, the “increased cross-range” argument is not meaningful. If there is any genuine consideration to be given to emergency re-entry profiles, then presumably there would need to be a list of global alternative landing sites. Simply being able to land 90 minutes sooner back at the nominal landing site in the case of a medical emergency is not much of a compelling argument.

  • Hug Doug

    LOL ok your comments are getting really … childish. at the best. tarot cards? really? stop being silly.

    there are no powered capsules other than SpaceX’s plans for Dragon Rider in the future. it will land in the ocean, unpowered, for at least its first several flights.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Additional cross-range is not required unless you need to glide to a runway approach. The idea that extra cross-range is of any real benefit is indeed silly. The notion that it is, merely demonstrates a failure to reason the problem rigorously.

    How many lifting body, winged gliders are being planned – Dream Chaser, Skylon…?. And how many of the crew launch and re-entry systems are actually going to be affordable?.

  • Hug Doug

    That’s not quite correct. Cross-range is required for any precision landing. Your options are more flexible with a winged craft that can control where it’s going, than in an uncontrolled capsule.

    It is a design decision. a tradeoff – payload weight vs. wings, controlled vs. uncontrolled landings.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    In truth we are talking here about Dream Chaser vs DragonRider.

    The question is not of “cross-range” or no-cross-range, it is of the cross-range afford by a capsule design, and more specifically, a powered capsule versus the *additional* cross-range afforded by a lifting/winged vehicle. Listing that additional cross-range as an added benefit worthy of mention is a false argument, since it would only be truly useful in a scenario where re-entry navigation has already failed, and so is of no real practical use. There is no significant, if any, added flexibility of a winged glider over a powered and contolled capsule.

    “It is a design decision. a tradeoff – payload weight vs. wings, controlled vs. uncontrolled landings.” You are presenting a false dichotomy. Since the capsule design is naturally more compact, there is indeed a tradeoff between payload mass to orbit vs wings. The true purpose of the wings is not for added capablility, it is so that it looks like a plane and makes people go all warm and sentimental making comparisons to science fiction vehicles or familiar modes of winged flight.

    The landing decision is then: precision runway landing or pinpoint precision vertical landing….on any flat surface.

    The purpose of the these human transport vehicles is to get to orbit as safely and efficiently as possible and then to return from orbit to the surface as safely and efficiently as possible.

  • Hug Doug

    Very well. there’s less cross-range afforded by a capsule design. that’s just a fact of aerodynamics. it is not a false argument. additional cross-range is useful, and the more of it you have the more flexible your spacecraft’s landing options are. even a powered Dragon Rider relies primarily on ballistics on reentry, the propulsion really only helps during the final phase of terminal descent.

    it is not a false dichotomy… you’re even agreeing that these are real trade-offs that come into play when you discuss capsule versus winged vehicle! and why do planes have wings? go on, tell me. are they for the warm fuzzies of the people who ride in them?

    the difference is that you’re clearly not playing with the same deck everyone else is in discussing topics like this.

  • savuporo

    Or, they could do something crazy and sponsor things like Copenhagen suborbitals, Swiss Propulsion Laboratory, ARCA etc etc. To forster growth of local, competitive space businesses with the eventual goal of launching reusable rockets to space.

  • Tonya

    The only major problem the shuttle had with wings, was that they were absolutely enormous. A decision that dates back to a military requirement that it have the cross range to return after just one polar orbit (which supposedly convinced the soviets that “space bomber” must be one of its planned uses).

    As is at the centre of the long thread above with HD/MV, it’s an engineering trade off. Wings (though the DC is largely a lifting body rather than a winged vehicle) offer a different approach to ballistic capsules with parachutes. The trade is mostly in development rather than operational costs.