SNC Designs Dream Chaser Variant for Stratolaunch

Dream Chaser (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation)
Dream Chaser (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation)

SPARKS, Nev., Sept. 30, 2014 – Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) today announced a design for an integrated system for human spaceflight that can be launched to low Earth orbit (LEO) using Stratolaunch System’s air launch architecture and a scale version of SNC’s Dream Chaser® spacecraft.

The Dream Chaser is a reusable, lifting-body spacecraft capable of crewed or autonomous flight. Dream Chaser is the only lifting-body spacecraft capable of a runway landing, anywhere in the world. Stratolaunch Systems is a Paul G. Allen project dedicated to developing an air-launch system that will revolutionize space transportation by providing orbital access to space at lower costs, with greater safety and more flexibility.

As designed, the Dream Chaser-Stratolauncher human spaceflight system can carry a crew of three astronauts to LEO destinations. This versatile system can also be tailored for un-crewed space missions, including science missions, light cargo transportation or suborbital point-to-point transportation. The scaled crewed spacecraft design is based on SNC’s full-scale Dream Chaser vehicle which, for the past four years, has undergone development and flight tests as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Chuck Beames, president, Vulcan Aerospace Corp and executive director for Stratolaunch Systems said, “Combining a scaled version of SNC’s Dream Chaser with the Stratolaunch air launch system could provide a highly responsive capability with the potential to reach a variety of LEO destinations and return astronauts or payloads to a U.S. runway within 24 hours.”

“This relationship would expand our portfolio to include the highly flexible Stratolaunch system for launching reusable crewed or uncrewed spacecraft, or for rapid satellite constellation deployment,” said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s Space Systems.

In addition to supporting development of human spaceflight capability, SNC studied satellite launch options and mechanisms, as well as point-to-point transportation options using the Stratolaunch launch system with a Dream Chaser spacecraft derivative. The Stratolaunch system is uniquely designed to allow for maximum operational flexibility and payload delivery from several possible operational sites, while minimizing mission constraints such as range availability and weather.

SNC and Stratolaunch Systems will present more detailed information on Dream Chaser-Stratolauncher at the 65th International Astronautical Congress in Toronto, Canada, on October 1, 2014 at 9:45 am ET in Room 701B.

About Stratolaunch Systems

Founded in 2011 by philanthropist and entrepreneur Paul G. Allen, Stratolaunch Systems is developing an air-launch system that will revolutionize space transportation by providing orbital access to space at lower costs, with greater safety and more flexibility. The system will allow for maximum operational flexibility and payload delivery from several possible operational sites, while minimizing mission constraints such as range availability and weather. The system is made up of three primary elements: a carrier aircraft, which is being designed by Scaled Composites; a multi-stage rocket system, which is being developed by Orbital Sciences; and an orbital payload. Initial efforts will focus on unmanned payloads, with human flights following as safety, reliability, and operability are demonstrated. Stratolaunch is based in Huntsville, Alabama with assembly facilities in Mojave, California.

About Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Space Systems

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Space Systems business area based in Louisville, Colorado, designs and manufactures advanced spacecraft, space vehicles, rocket motors and spacecraft subsystems and components for the U.S. Government, commercial customers as well as for the international market.  SNC’s Space Systems has more than 25 years of space heritage and has participated in over 400 successful space missions through the delivery of over 4,000 systems, subsystems and components.  During its history, SNC’s Space Systems has concluded over 70 programs for NASA and over 50 other clients. For more information about SNC’s Space Systems visit and follow us at

  • mfck

    ISTM you’ve been careful just enough. ))

  • Pete Zaitcev

    Gary Hudson begs to differ. Man, what a ride that would’ve been – being pulled from a cargo hold of a C-17 with chutes, while being attached to a CH4/LOX booster, plummeting to Earth before the ignition. That NASA didn’t include t/Space into COTS pretty much tells you everything. In the old days NASA astronauts would’ve been _the_ people to ride a stunt rocket like that.

  • mfck

    When Musk pays his regards to NASA, which he does in almost every public appearance, he definitely means more than money. You make it sound all about the money. It’s not.

    Just my $0.02

    Likewise, I am pretty sure, and please, correct me if i am wrong here, SNC not being selected for CCtCap does not mean there will be no communication and knowledge transfer with NASA.

  • windbourne

    re-read what I said.
    I said that had NASA not been forthcoming with money, THEN SpaceX would have followed the Tesla path (borrow from various sources, and then IPO).

    And what Musk said is that NASA’s help is what got him to where he is. He never said that their $ got him there.

    I have nothing but the utmost respect for NASA. That is why I say that it was their expertise that made SpaceX, BO, L-Mart, Boeing, etc who they are. And yes, NASA has helped the old space companies as well.

  • windbourne

    I differ.
    I really think that by 2020, we will have multiple space stations in LEO with more than 15 ppl total on-board.

  • Tonya

    The aerodynamics could be interesting. The fairing on the Pegasus II is shaped to generate lift, and is intended to assist the whole rocket pull up.

    The DC would presumably have to provide the same role. Rather than using an adapter that spoils the wing, as was the plan for Atlas launches, the aerodynamic lift from the DC would probably have to be integral to the overall rocket.

  • mfck

    You’re obviously entrenched in your confusion between the different Pegasus rockets. Get a grip, dude

  • Christopher James Huff

    Stratolaunch uses a custom-built aircraft, which will be the largest aircraft by wingspan to ever fly. Its payload is 6100 kg to LEO…a bit under half of a Falcon 9’s payload. There’s nothing keeping them from putting a scaled down Dream Chaser into orbit. It’s definitely a dead-end approach, though…low-performance solids, no room for scaling up to higher payloads, dependence on giant custom aircraft, etc.

  • mfck

    I wrote this down. 😉

  • Tonya

    No problem, as I say, there’s a broad range of predictions on the matter. I would say you’re an optimist, which is no bad thing to be in my books.

  • Tonya

    Of course it can scale up to higher payloads, you just need to cluster three or more of the aircraft together 😉

  • windbourne

    and yet, when SpaceX was going to do the work, they equated the stratolaunch, combined with an F5 to equal 2/3’s of the F9.

    As to the altitude and speed, well, you realize that launching at the equator vs. kennedy, adds less than 200 kMPH ( ~100-110 MPH) to the speed.

    And yet, you are gripping about adding 1000 kMPH (600 MPH) to the speed, AND 1/10.

    Sorry, but I think that I will trust the aeronautical engineers working on this.

    And I have to say that when SpaceX was launching the F1, and then grasshopper, there were many naysayers (such as the weasel that used to post on space sites blasting all of the private space and wanting America to fund Russia and Europe instead).
    Now, I expect plenty of naysayers to run around on this, and in the end, I suspect that this will work just fine.

  • windbourne

    actually, he kicked hodgkins in the 80s (90s?). He had a different form of cancer in the 00s, and I thought something different last year or so (which would indicate that it was metastasizing ).

  • windbourne

    10 years, I would NEVER have made such a statement.
    I have to say, that I had given up on America leading the way when I was watching the house GOP destroy NASA and esp. when they stopped private space from doing their own launches.

    But between W/griffin, combined with O/Bolden, NASA has been on the right path when it comes to private space. Constellation, followed by SLS, are disasters, but private launch is about to shut down the SLS, which will lead America into BEO.

    Now, we have multiple companies that are launching, and while the house GOP are still hard at work trying to destroy private space (and NASA to a degree), I think that NASA has mostly got the system going.

    I am an optimist now. No doubt about it.
    But, increasingly, I am underrating it. 🙂

  • Kapitalist

    Do you seriously imagine that a crewed spacecraft could accelerate from mach 1 to mach 25 from an airplane to reach Earth orbit? If so, then I’m sorry to inform you that your imagination is unfeasible. It’s like chasing a dream. With wings.

  • Kapitalist

    I’d love to see it actually happen! But I think it would be much more practical to launch it from the ground instead. Like putting it on top of an Atlas V or a Falcon 9. And just forgetting about that crazy airplane-thingy idea.

  • windbourne

    First, do you expect skylon to fail as well?
    Secondly, it has already happened.
    SS1 already reached orbit, and it was launched from an aircraft.

  • Kapitalist

    I think Skylon was not a last minute make-work attempt to rescue a project when it had lost out in the competition. Tranforming Dream Chaser into a Skylon is quite surprising to me. And Skylon, hasn’t it been around for ever by now? Is it the third generation engineers who work on that today? Except for military ICBM’s, suborbital doesn’t seem to move much, does it?

    I hope that ESA, Skylon and SNC can make something useful together. But launching from an airplane won’t help.

  • windbourne

    launching horizontally or vertically makes no real difference. The rocket can still turn upwards.

  • Kapitalist

    I’m waiting for skylon to succeed! I inherited that waiting form my father…

    You might think that I am pessimistic when I say that I believe more in airships to orbit than in airplanes to orbit. And that best of all is to just blast off a big cylinder of fuel from the ground. It has the little advantage of, how to put it now, well, it works!

  • Christopher James Huff

    Well, yes. Stratolaunch is almost certainly not a practical approach to spaceflight. The Pegasus II launches 14 times the payload of the Pegasus. If it can somehow do that at *no more* than the $30-40 million a Pegasus launch costs these days, it’s still well behind the non-reusable Falcon 9, with no good prospects for cheap and fast reuse.

  • delphinus100

    It’s pretty clear that some unfunded stuff will still happen with SN and NASA, yes.

  • windbourne

    SNC will get the money elsewhere. Believe me.
    What is important, is the help that NASA offers.

  • mfck

    Yeah, in a rotational symmetry about the main axis… Kerbal Space Program style.

  • mzungu

    $ is what made companies float. It’s the only thing. There is no rocket scientist that is going to work for free, or any vendor that’s going to make you parts because they wanted to go to Mars too…..

    I doubt the Musk is referring to the technical expertise that NASA had given him, even if he is, the 1st thing that a NASA Branch Manager is going to ask is who is funding this, because SpaceX is going to pay the consulting fee, It may a round about way of routing the money, but that fee is coming from NASA.

  • stourleykracklite

    NASA flew into space in the 1950’s. Yay, free enterprise!