Setting the Spaceplane Stage

Dream Chaser shuttle. (Credit: NASA)

HAMPTON, Va. (NASA PR) — Fly frequently, travel safely, land on (most) runways, and operate economically: such are the guiding principles for 21st century spaceplanes, cargo-carrying aerospace workhorses routinely launching to low-Earth orbit for space station resupply and crew transfers. Fans disconsolate after retirement of NASA’s shuttle fleet can take heart: The next generation in reusable space vehicles is set to debut.

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Update on Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser

Dream Chaser berthed at space station. (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation)

The slide below is from a recent NASA update on the space agency’s Commercial Crew Program.

Although Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser was eliminated from the final round of the program nearly three years ago, the company has continued to develop the vehicle for both crew and cargo flights to the International Space Station. NASA has awarded a contract for cargo flights under the Commercial Resupply Services 2 program.

A full-scale engineering article is set to conduct an approach and landing test at NASA’s Armstrong Flight and Research Center in California this fall. The flight is one of the unfinished milestones from Sierra Nevada’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capabilities contract.

The test will come about four years the last Dream Chaser approach and landing test in October 2013. The glide portion of the flight went as planned, but a failure of part of the landing gear resulted in a crash on the runway.

The company is continuing to develop Dream Chaser for crew flights under an unfunded Space Act Agreement (SAA) with NASA. A total of eight milestones are included under the agreement, which has been extended to August 2022.

Under an unfunded SAA, each side pays covers its own costs for any work performed.

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New Supersonic Technology Designed to Reduce Sonic Booms

This rendering shows the Lockheed Martin future supersonic advanced concept featuring two engines under the wings and one on top of the fuselage (not visible in this image).

By Bob Granath
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Residents along Florida’s Space Coast will soon hear a familiar sound — sonic booms. But instead of announcing a spacecraft’s return from space, they may herald a new era in faster air travel.

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NASA Precise Landing Technologies Tested on Masten Rocket

Video Caption: NASA is flight testing next-generation lander navigation technology through the CoOperative Blending of Autonomous Landing Technologies (COBALT) project. The technology provides a spacecraft with knowledge during entry, descent and landing that enables it to precisely navigate and softly land close to surface locations that have been previously too risky to target with current capabilities. The technologies will enable future exploration destinations on Mars, the moon, Europa, and other planets and moons.

The two primary navigation components within COBALT include the Langley Research Center’s Navigation Doppler Lidar, which provides ultra-precise velocity and line-of-sight range measurements, and Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Lander Vision System, which provides navigation estimates relative to an existing surface map. The integrated system is being flight tested onboard a Masten Space Systems suborbital rocket vehicle called Xodiac. The COBALT project is led by the Johnson Space Center, with funding provided through the Game Changing Development, Flight Opportunities program, and Advanced Exploration Systems programs.

COBALT free flight tests, or untethered, on the rocket coming soon.

NASA Selects New Technologies for Flight Tests for Future Space Exploration


EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA has selected five space technologies to test on low-gravity-simulating aircraft, high-altitude balloons or suborbital rockets. The opportunity to fly on these vehicles helps advance technologies closer to practical use by taking them from a laboratory environment to the real world.

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Dream Chaser to Undergo Tests at NASA Armstrong

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s space vehicle suspends in a hangar at NASA’s Armstrong to undergo testing. (Credit: NASA/Ken Ulbrich)

Sierra Nevada Corporation delivered its Dream Chaser spacecraft Wednesday to NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California, located on Edwards Air Force Base. The spacecraft will undergo several months of testing at the center in preparation for its approach and landing flight on the base’s 22L runway.

The test series is part of a developmental space act agreement SNC has with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The upcoming test campaign will help SNC validate the aerodynamic properties, flight software and control system performance of the Dream Chaser.

SNC delivers Dream Chaser to NASA Armstrong posing it with the HL-10 lifting body flown the 1960s. (Credit: NASA /Ken Ulbrich)

The Dream Chaser is also being prepared to deliver cargo to the International Space Station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS2) contract beginning in 2019. The data that SNC gathers 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.

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NASA Selects New Technologies for Flight Tests

Made in Space employees on a Zero G research flight.
Made in Space employees on a Zero G research flight.

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA’s Flight Opportunities program has selected 13 space technology payloads to flight test on parabolic aircraft, high-altitude balloons or suborbital launch vehicles to demonstrate new technologies. The selections were made through the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) in Washington.

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Generation Orbit Signs Space Act Agreement With NASA Armstrong

Flight Experiments Testbed (Credit: Generation Orbit)
Flight Experiments Testbed (Credit: Generation Orbit)

ATLANTA — Generation Orbit Launch Services, Inc. (GO) is pleased to announce the signing of a Space Act Agreement with NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC) to collaboratively pursue the flight test and envelope clearance for the GOLauncher 1 air launched rocket vehicle.

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NASA Seeks Suborbital Space Companies to Flight Test Space Technologies

Current commercial suborbital spaces launch providers that are under contract for the Flight Opportunities Program. (Credit: NASA Collage / Monroe Conner)
Current commercial suborbital spaces launch providers that are under contract for the Flight Opportunities Program. (Credit: NASA Collage / Monroe Conner)

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA has been working with commercial space companies for several years to deliver astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station. The agency has also sought commercial suborbital space companies to verify the performance of technologies and systems in suborbital space with the goal of reducing the cost and risk of future orbital space missions.

NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Flight Opportunities Program has re-opened its solicitation seeking to on-ramp suborbital reusable launch vehicle services that will fly NASA internally sourced or NASA-directed research and development technology payloads.  The suborbital flights will provide these payloads exposure to space, reduced gravity or high-altitude environments required to test technology performance and advance technology readiness levels.

NASA awarded the first on-ramp solicitation to Near Space Corporation, Tillamook, Oregon, in September 2015, that joined original vendors Masten Space Systems, Mojave, California; UP Aerospace, Littleton, Colorado; Virgin Galactic, New York City; and World View, Tucson, Arizona, in providing flight services using suborbital launchers and balloons.

The on-ramping solicitation allows for additional suborbital space companies with a proven flight record to qualify as new flight providers for the program. Aircraft microgravity flight services are outside the scope of this solicitation.

NASA Selects New Technologies for Parabolic Flights and Suborbital Launches

NASA LOGOEDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program has selected eight space technology payloads for reduced gravity flights on board specialized aircraft and commercial suborbital reusable launch vehicles (sRLVs). These flights provide a valuable platform to mature cutting-edge technologies, validating feasibility and reducing technical risks and costs before infusion into future space missions.

Five of the newly selected proposals requested parabolic flights, which involve a flight maneuver that uses a dramatic half-minute drop of the aircraft though the sky to simulate weightlessness. Two proposed projects will fly on sRLVs for testing during longer periods of weightlessness. An additional payload will fly on both platforms.

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ISPCS Day One Review & a Mojave Engine Test

Credit: Robin Snelson
Credit: Robin Snelson

Greetings from Mojave.  I had hoped to be greeting you from Las Cruces from the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS — pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Is-pic-us). But, my plans to leave one desert town to travel across vast stretches of desert to a larger desert town didn’t work out this year. (I don’t know why; it sounded like so much fun.)

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Terminal Velocity Aerospace Tests Recoverable Experiments Capsule

High-altitude balloon lifts space reentry capsule for flight test. (Credit: Near Space Corporation)
High-altitude balloon lifts space reentry capsule for flight test. (Credit: Near Space Corporation)

TILLAMOOK, Ore. (NASA PR) — A prototype capsule that one day will return science experiments to Earth was tested by releasing it from a high-altitude balloon in Tillamook, Oregon. Technology like this capsule could one day return biological samples and other small payloads from space in a relatively short time.

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Video About Innovation at Mojave, NASA Armstrong & Edwards AFB

Video Caption: In this video, innovative ideas on the future of space travel and aerospace dynamics are the brainchild of Mojave Spaceport’s, Stu Witt; NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s David McBride and Rocket Propulsion Lab’s Mike Huggins. The importance of risk as a crucial element in progressing forward is emphasized by the foremost risk-takers in space; rocket science; aerospace and education.The role of STEM education in growing our engineers is championed by AV College Math and Science Dean, Les Uhazy, as well as the space pioneers interviewed for this project.

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Towed Twin-Fuselage Glider Launch System First Test Flight Successful

One of NASA Armstrong’s DROID small unmanned research aircraft tows the twin-fuselage towed glider into the blue sky on its first test flight. (Credit: Tom Tschida/NASA Armstrong)
One of NASA Armstrong’s DROID small unmanned research aircraft tows the twin-fuselage towed glider into the blue sky on its first test flight. (Credit: Tom Tschida/NASA Armstrong)

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA has successfully flight-tested a prototype twin-fuselage towed glider that could lead to rockets being launched from pilotless aircraft at high altitudes – a technology application that could significantly reduce the cost and improve the efficiency of sending small satellites into space. The first flights of the one-third-scale twin fuselage towed glider took place Oct. 21 from NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California.

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