Dream Chaser Returning to the Mojave for Glide Tests

Dream Chaser test vehicle prepares to ship. (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation)
Dream Chaser test vehicle prepares to ship. (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation)

SPARKS, Nev., July 28, 2016 (SNC PR) Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) Dream Chaser full-scale, flight test vehicle is ready for transportation to NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC) in California where Phase Two flight tests will be conducted in coordination with Edwards Air Force Base (AFB).

Dream Chaser program upgrades and initial hardware testing were completed at the Louisville, Colorado spacecraft assembly facility, and within the next several weeks the same Dream Chaser vehicle that conducted Phase One flight testing will arrive at NASA’s AFRC.

Upon arrival, SNC will begin a series of pre-flight ground evaluations to verify and validate the vehicle’s system and subsystem designs. After successful completion of all ground testing, Dream Chaser will begin its Phase Two free-flight testing. These activities are being conducted through a Space Act Agreement with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

“Dream Chaser continues to make strong progress toward orbital flight,” said Mark N. Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s Space Systems business area. “In addition to Phase Two flight testing, our on-time completion of the first two milestones under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract in the last two months positions us well to be on-schedule for orbital operational flight. We are very grateful for all the support we have received from NASA and the U.S. Air Force, and are excited to continue the legacy of historic flight testing that is the hallmark of NASA AFRC and Edwards AFB.”

What Are We Testing?

The vehicle will undergo a series of tests building on those performed in Phase One, including tow-tests, pre-flight tests and ending with free-flight testing. SNC is also performing additional critical tests to validate the Dream Chaser’s orbital flight software and calculate the spacecraft’s handling and performance characteristics. Along with other pre-flight and post-flight evaluations, this data will be used to confirm Dream Chaser’s subsonic aerodynamic properties as well as flight software and control system performance requirements.

“These tests are significant for us in multiple ways; building on our previous flight test, completing a significant milestone under our CCP agreement, as well as gathering crucial data that will help complete the design of the vehicle being built for our CRS-2 contract,” said Sirangelo.

CCP Testing Supports CRS-2 Development

The Phase Two flight test efforts will be highly supportive of, and executed in parallel with continued work being done by SNC under the NASA CRS-2 program. The Dream Chaser test vehicle has been upgraded to include several hardware and software components being integrated into the Dream Chaser Cargo System design for the CRS-2 program, allowing for actual flight testing of the new components. The flight tests will act as a bridge between previous work with CCP and the next-generation vehicle currently under development for the forthcoming International Space Station cargo resupply missions.

Editor’s Note: These flight tests were part of Sierra Nevada’s commercial crew contract prior to Dream Chaser being eliminated from the competition. Dream Chaser flew one glide test in October 2013, but the vehicle crashed on the runway due to a failure of part of the landing gear to deploy.

NASA officials said earlier this week they expect tests to take place around December. The space agency has extended its agreement with Sierra Nevada through the middle of 2017 to provide additional time should the tests be delayed.

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  • Michael Vaicaitis

    DreamChaser flight test…..rock’n’roll

  • Love those BOR-4/HL-20 lines!

  • therealdmt

    Don’t forget to check the hydraulic fluid!

  • Geoff T

    Debate the merits of lifting bodies for spacecraft all you want, there’s something about Dreamchaser that looks undeniably “right” visually. Here’s hoping the crew version also gets its chance to shine one day!

  • Arthur Hamilton

    It will be awesome when SNC get’s this thing launched. I hope they are able to build a fleet of 20 one day or more. Diversity in manned access to space is what should’ve happened in the 70’s – 80’s in the U.S.

  • Arthur Hamilton

    Is there a cgi of all three U.S. cargo vehicles against the back drop of earth & space? There is one of the Orion, Dragon & Starliner crew vehicles.

  • The ghost of Kelly Johnson strikes again!

  • John_The_Duke_Wayne

    “rock’n’roll”

    Hopefully not too much! Smooth test flights are most desirable 😉

  • John_The_Duke_Wayne

    Get after it SNC! Awesome dedication to a goal, despite the set backs hope to see you guys at the station soon

  • windbourne

    Once the cargo version flies, you know the crew will follow quickly.

  • windbourne

    For those of you in Denver region, stop in at wings over the Rockies.
    Prototype there.

  • Vladislaw

    I agree. At 15,000 pounds more than the capsules it is a big difference in costs to the consumer. Nothing gets lifted for free so at $2,000 a pound it adds 30 million to the flight, at $4,000 it moves to 60 million. This adds about 4-8 million to the per seat costs.

    For me the crew version will be falling into the specialty vehicle catagory not a base model. Once there is a significant human presence in LEO I believe more of a market will open up for this, especially if launch costs come down.

  • Vladislaw

    I like the cargo color scheme..

  • It’ll be interesting to see where the final weight numbers come in vis-à-vis Shuttle (and to a lesser extent Buran) and X-37. How much can do different wing configurations really penalize the vehicle?

    Shuttle/Buran did the delta wing with elevons with a body flap. X-37 again has a delta wing but with ruddervators again with the body flap. DreamChaser uses a lifting body with stub wings and elevons without a body flap (why they didn’t try and fulfill the Kutta condition is still beyond me).

    All 3 offer different aerodynamics and different weight penalties to achieve the same thing. Which is the optimal design? I think we are running the last part of that experiment right now, it’ll be interesting to see how the final vehicles turns out.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    I don’t see DC becoming a popular capsule alternative. As you point out, the economics are against it, and in return for increased costs it offers only reduced return g’s. Hopefully, in the next 10-30 years or so there will be a lot more HSF and crew comfort, via low g return, will be more important. However, if there is a significant increase in passenger then economics will drive the design. A few economies of scale possibilities occur to me that are far superior to DC:
    1) Skylon could carry 30-40 passengers at a projected mission cost of $5-20M and will offer even lower g, and in both directions.
    2) It’s likely that second stages will be fully reusable within a decade and so it might make sense to combine the upper stage and spacecraft, and with a much increased seat count.
    3) BFR will be able to lift circa 150 tonnes, so will be able to carry a spacecraft (or crew carrying 2nd-stage) with as many seats as you like.

    There’s no getting away from the fact that DC is competing on cost, and cost alone, against capsules of similar internal volume. It survives for now, simply on the basis of NASA wanting to spread its eggs over several baskets. The more successful (i.e. frequent) passenger space flight becomes, the more important per seat costs will become and the more DC will be at a disadvantage. I predict hat capsules will win the day, at least until the market expands and vehicles with higher seat numbers take over.

  • windbourne

    A couple of things:
    1) how many trips will it do? 10 and then the weight matters. 100, or possibly 1000, and suddenly it might be closer.
    2) will there be a lot of older folks going to space. If so, they might be happy paying extra to avoid the much higher G’s.

  • Vladislaw

    That is why I call it a specialty vehicle. Once you have a high LEO population the more of need for specialty vehicles…

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    The premise of “much more” passenger transport is surely only based on a mix of two contributing variables:
    1) more people going to and from orbit on a regular basis
    2) many more people on orbit at any given time

    Those older folks windbourne refers to will have to withstand higher than those return g’s on the way up. So, unless these “older folks” are spending many months in zero g, the “comfortable” return will carry little value. One might assume that all these extra flights will be in part due to shorter stays, especially for “older folks”. One might also assume that many more people going back and forth will demand larger transport vehicles. A genuinely high on orbit population, amongst them, a goodly number of “older folks”, will not be successfully serviced by 6-7 seat vehicles. Cost per kg as an absolute metric falls away with HSF, because the important metric becomes seats per launch (together with the cost of the launch vehicle and spacecraft). The only way to truly reduce the cost of HSF is to increase the ratio of seats to cost. Decreasing cost via reusable vehicles is obvious important, but increasing the number of seats over which the cost is shared.

    In short, I don’t think DreamChaser is the speciality vehicle you’re looking for.

  • Vladislaw

    I am not “looking for” any thing.. I have stated repeatedly that I do not believe Dream Chaser, the manned version, should be funded yet. Because it IS a specialty vehicle and not a baseline vehicle. In order for any specialty vehicle to succeed their has to be a large customer base. There isn’t one yet.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    I understand that. I was simply putting forward the argument that the significant increase in the volume of human space transport required to make DC viable as a niche use vehicle, would more than likely bring with it demands that would make DC even less attractive and less viable than it already is. I would suggest that an increase in traffic would further exacerbate the need to lower per seat costs even further, rather creating niches for designs that missed the boat by 30 years. I do realise you trying to find some optimism for DC, despite its otherwise bleak future. Some commenters like DC because they “WANT a space-plane”, some because of a more defensible “the more the merrier” mentality. I suspect we are generally on the same page, in that we appreciate that reducing cost is the great enabler for a human space flight revolution. The three ways to reduce the cost per seat are: reusable launch vehicles, reusable low maintenance space craft, and more seats per launch. I don’t see that DC fits the profile or ever will. As a more concrete counterpoint, I wonder how Blue Origin’s bi-conic capsule will compare by way of cost and re-entry g’s.

  • Vladislaw

    My apologies, I stand corrected. I have taken heat before because I was not a fan of Dream Chaser when it competed for the commercial crew program and stated that a few times to the DC chorus. It was the fact it was a more expensive niche vehicle was the reason I was against it. Flight rate reduces costs and it if was going to come in a lot more expensive it would never achieve a high flight rate.

    I was for the cargo version, although it to was still a specialty vehicle and would cost more, not as much as a crew version. When the two cargo service providers were both down because of accidents it only drilled home the need for redundant cargo services for space facilities.

    Since the DC can offer a low G ride home there will be an immediate use for bringing home some federal government and commercial experiment results under a low G environment. So I am okay with the commercial cargo aspect for now. But still would not want federal funding for the crew version .. yet.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Pretty much agree. The “not the ????? you’re looking for” quip was a sad and poorly executed attempt at nerd humour.