Dream Chaser Makes Successful Glide Flight at Edwards

Dream Chaser during glide flight. (Credit: NASA)

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser shuttle made a successful glide flight and landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California on Saturday.

Dream Chaser lands (Credit: NASA)

Dropped from a helicopter, the automated vehicle made a successful approach and landing on the concrete runway.

Dream Chaser lands (Credit: NASA)

Sierra Nevada is developing the Dream Chaser to deliver cargo to the International Space Station under a contract from NASA.

Dream Chaser lands (Credit: NASA)

It was the first flight of the Dream Chaser in four years. A previous glide flight ran off the runway in October 2013 when one half of the main landing gear failed to deploy.

  • Congrats! HL-20 rides again!!!

  • Vladislaw

    Congrats to the team for bringing it in ..

  • therealdmt

    Yeah!

  • therealdmt

    Dragon II and DreamChaser would’ve been an awesome 1-2 punch.

    Hopefully Sierra Nevada can still see the manned version through someday, but, alas,…

  • Bulldog

    Well done SNC! Looking forward to the next steps in the test program and ultimately a launch!

  • Aerospike

    Finally, congratulations to the whole team!
    And now get that bird into orbit (even if it is only the unmanned cargo version)!

  • SamuelRoman13

    Great! Love those nose high landings. I hope they say what weight they were flying with. Or this was like the wood Shuttle. A little like RC. Just computer though, but with telemetry like RC has today.

  • delphinus100

    Cool. No ‘Steve Austin’ landings, this time…

  • Dragon started life as an unmanned cargo carrier. The sky is NOT the limit.

  • Jacob Samorodin

    Yep! Engineers like to see their systems evolve to meet other requirements.

  • Jimmy S. Overly

    Good work, SNC. I guess 2.5 months between captive-carry and the glide flight isn’t too bad.

  • windbourne

    im pretty sure that SNC will make DC be both cargo and manned.
    More importantly, I think that NASA wants that, and that is why they gave the seemingly monster contract for doing cargo.

    I think that more than anything, NASA wants redundancy in various launch systems so that they are NEVER shut out again.

  • therealdmt

    NASA definitely wants it (as do some other national space agencies and Sierra Nevada itself), but will Congress pay for it to be developed? It’s not beyond the realm of possibility, but there have been no signs of such a development so far.

    Also, a multi-billionaire could come riding in on his white horse and gift Sierra Nevada the development money —not beyond the realm of possibility either (Paul Allen immediately springs to mind, and I think it was Google´s Sergey Brin who said the best thing he could do with his money is give it to SpaceX [or something like that?]), but considering the small potential market and its own limited resources, I don’t think we’ll see Sierra Nevada do it on their own.

    For reference, the company’s total revenue for 2016 is estimated to have been $587,000,000, and Eren Ozmem”s current estimated net worth is estimated at $1.1 billion by Forbes while an estimate for her husband Faith’s net worth seems harder to come by but should be at least somewhat less than his wife as Sierra is often touted (by Sierra) as a “woman owned business” and those two comprise the sole owners of the corporation

  • Aerospike

    Why do you think that congress has to fund this?
    a) They have already funded most of this through the early rounds of commercial crew.
    b) SNC has repeatedly said that they will continue development on their own, even if it is at a snail’s pace.
    c) Once they have done the orbital tests of the cargo version, the crewed version is also pretty much “good to go” – just add life support.

    Tho expand on c) : as I see it, this is different than the situation we have now with Dragon vs Dragon V2. It is closer to the original scenario, where Crew Dragon was supposed to be the exact same capsule as Cargo Dragon, just in a different internal configuration. But then Elon Musk’s perfectionism and drive to improve things led to Dragon V2 which is pretty much a different beast altogether. In software development we call that feature creep.

    Dream Chaser on the other hand was started as a crewed vehicle and only when the sole potential customer (with enough money to fund development) decided to pick the competition it was redesigned to be pitched again as a cargo only variant with a simpler launch configuration (to fit more launcher options).

    So the only thing missing is figuring out the final launch configuration (aerodynamics) for the crewed version. Not sure if that was ever finalized during CC and I’m pretty sure that the manned version will never launch folded up inside a payload fairing. That would pretty much void any reliable launch abort schemes.

    “It’s not beyond the realm of possibility, but there have been no signs of such a development so far.”

    You never found it interesting that they decided on a second glide flight of the same crewed version ETA even though NASA said it wasn’t required?

    They could have waited for the first prototype of the new cargo version to do any additional glide flights. SNC really wants a crewed Dream Chaser, so I guess this whole second glide flight with a test article of the crewed version was mainly to show it to the world and hope that someone with deep enough pockets is interested enough to fund at least part of the remaining development for the crewed version.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Pardon me for being the SpaceX fanboy (aka pragmatist), but DreamChaser’s problematic future is due to having taken 20+ years to reach orbit. DC will have to face the same problem as Starliner and Dragon 2 – the rather obvious behemoth in the room that is BFR. Redundancy will keep Dragon/Starliner/DC alive for a few extra years, but DC at $100,000/kg versus BFS at $100/kg will chase away lingering dreams of further development funding.

  • ReSpaceAge

    Thats not being a fanboy it is just the facts. It has always been obvious that a larger reusable vehicle is necessary to make space economical.

  • therealdmt

    Why I think congress has to fund it is that…, well, for one, I mentioned another possibility like an outside investor/gifter, but, while there is a chance that could happen for this very interesting project, the probability cannot be considered to be high. So, then we’re likely down to self-funding it’s development or raising the funds through capital markets or loans — traditional financing mechanisms. Or Congress.

    Self funding would be possible for this privately owned company with only two owners who are likely big fans of their flagship product — if there are enough funds. Now we come to the big question of what would it cost to take it from Cargo DreamChaser to a manned version, certified by NASA for operation to the ISS. You think it would be relatively inexpensive, I’m thinking it would be quite expensive. We don’t have a lot of data to go on here other than the example of cargo-to-manned Dragon, from which we have drawn opposite conclusions. Basically, if you’re right, then they could possibly self fund it. If I’m right, they can’t. Hard to know. Continued growth of the company would help.

    If they have to raise the funds through traditional financing means, they’ll have to show a (believable) projected rate of return in excess of alternative investments, within a reasonable business timeframe. In my estimation, that case cannot be made considering the limited market, soon-to-be already established competitors and the looming presence of BFR. Also, if/when NASA proceeds to a beyond LEO concentration with its manned efforts, DreamChaser, with its inability to return from other than LEO, would not seem to be a natural fit for such endeavors.

    Now I’m not saying getting to a manned version is impossible, just disappointingly unlikely. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and a privately owned company, depending on how they’ve financed themselves to this point, could potentially have the leeway to do things that don’t make strict business sense. An IPO might raise the funds. There are numerous potential paths, actually. However, I still think the best chance is that the government decides that a manned LEO economy is essential to the national interest and NASA, charged with fostering the development of that reiterates that it needs at least 3 manned providers and Congress agrees to throw Sierra Nevada (and perhaps BO) some funds to finish that up.

  • Michael Halpern

    Actually there might be a place for DC alongside BFR, if you can fit it inside a satellite delivery bfs most of that cost is launch, in the same way large aircraft like the 747 don’t fit all uses for air travel, the BFR may not fit all uses for space, as for capsules, they can’t make nice comfortable airport landings, and there are logistical problems with splashdowns. To bring the launch cost down, a DC would have to ride share in a bfs, but instead of simply providing transport to and from LEO it could provide transport across LEO.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Or you could just use the BFS for that across LEO transport – you’d save the eleven+ tonnes of propellant taken up by DC, and all the propellant used to get that eleven+ tonne DC up there in the first place. Or if BFS still doesn’t have the delta-v to spare to provide this whatever it is additional transportation service, then a reusable EP tug might be in order – which could plausibly be recovered/refuelled on a subsequent mission. Using DC is adding mass and expense, and stealing delta-v and money, for no apparent benefit.

  • Michael Halpern

    Depends on if the BFS is needed elsewhere, large vehicles are great for transporting large quantities, not so good when you can’t fill them, I have customers that need to be at point A most of them want to go to point b later, but a small number at point a need to go to point c, and don’t want to wait for another bfs, so you call up a DC already docked or in orbit to take those customers to point c while the bfs goes to point b. Simple logistics.

  • Zen_Punk

    Even if it were the case that the behemoth BFR/BFS was the best choice for every use case(which I doubt) I would not be comfortable with SpaceX having a monopoly on every area of space.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Now I’m getting foggy on your context – Are you talking about cargo, or are you talking about transporting people?.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    First of all, why not?
    Secondly, assuming other cost competitive vehicles eventually arrive, I certainly support other options. No-one is actually “team SpaceX”, it’s simply that SpaceX is the ONLY (with the hopeful exception of BO) that is making any serious attempt to make human activity in space a genuinely realistic and affordable possibility.
    In contrast, I don’t see how DreamChaser is in any way, affordable, useful or desirable. It’s just clunky old ancient technology belonging to a bygone age that the HL-20 didn’t actually get to take any part in.

  • Michael Halpern

    People primarily, if I was in such a hurry to get cargo back to Earth I would attempt to develop an at least partially inflatable capsule, no reason to give cargo the comfort of an airport if there are easier and less expensive options. But cargo will rarely if ever need that kind of service, people very likely will.

  • Zen_Punk

    For the same reason I would be uncomfortable with any other single entity having unchallenged control over space travel. I’m not anti-spacex – I greatly appreciate anyone taking tangible steps to off-earth human settlement – but I am wary of the one-size-fits all approach and I don’t see the advantage in being constrained to a single approach.

    I don’t know that DC is directly comparable to BFS since DC is not a rocket stage in itself. As such, though, any improvement in launch vehicles will benefit the economics of DC, no? It seems like an unfair swipe to say that the DC using the HL-20’s lifting body amounts to it being an outdated design – if it was a good design then, it will be now, given that the earth’s atmosphere and the laws of physics haven’t changed radically in the intervening years. I guarantee that SNC aren’t using engines, avionics, heat shield etc. of similar vintage.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    DreamChaser is not a spacecraft of future, it is a spacecraft of the past.
    And you’re suggesting putting people inside a DC inside a BFS cargo – that is pure madness. Why would people not simply travel by passenger BFS?. With BFR/BFS launching hundreds or thousands of times a year, with aircraft like reliability. Why would you want to stowaway in a cargo configuration BFS inside a creaky old dingy that hardly ever goes to space? – so that you can pucker your way to a landing at a different location. I don’t see many bi-planes being carried around by A380s.
    If, on the other hand, you wanted to travel between in-space locations, either go by BFS or a vehicle designed for permanent use in space that would be vastly more cost effective and useful than DC. Why spend extra money for more risk simply for the pleasure of using a retro antique replica vehicle. DreamChaser missed its chance for usefulness and any hope of financial credibility 20+ years ago. SNC should take whatever profit they can get from their nasa cargo contract and design a 21st century space vehicle to replace the silly old boat they have.

    If you haven’t guessed, I’m not a fan of DC – too heavy, too expensive, not as safe as a capsule, not big enough or useful enough to compete with next generation (BFS like) spacecraft. Until SpaceX and BO and those with similar ambitions, can get us to large, daily use, fully reusable launchers and spacecraft, there will be a fair redundancy case for nasa to make for vehicles like Dragon, Starliner (I’m still laughing at that name), and DreamChaser, but that is all DC is good for. There is of course also a good argument for nasa/government to encourage fledging companies in new or growing industries.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “As such, though, any improvement in launch vehicles will benefit the economics of DC, no?”
    That’s right, no!. Perhaps if there were a launch architecture with a fully reusable second stage that is only a second stage, then it would need a well designed, economically viable spacecraft and re-entry vehicle, but I don’t think DC fits that description. Good luck to SNC for their cargo contract, but a truly viable space bound future needs much more than DC has to offer.

    “It seems like an unfair swipe to say that the DC using the HL-20’s lifting body amounts to it being an outdated design – if it was a good design then, it will be now”
    Well that’s the problem, as with the shuttle, whether we recognised the fact at the time, it wasn’t a good design then, and now it looks even worse.

  • Zen_Punk

    This is not the same design as shuttle. If you want to contend that all lifting bodies are bad, why is ok for BFS?