Dream Chaser Flies Free, Again


Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser successfully completed a drop and glide test flight from 12,300 feet to Runway 22L at Edwards Air Force Base last week. “The Dream Chaser flight test demonstrated excellent performance of the spacecraft’s aerodynamic design and the data shows that we are firmly on the path for safe, reliable orbital flight,” said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of Sierra Nevada’s Space System division. The Dream Chaser was original envisioned as a crew transport to and from the international space station, but after receiving part of NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2 contract, Sierra Nevada is focused on the cargo-only mission for now. The Dream Chaser will catch a ride to orbit atop the United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket.

The Dream Chaser’s special feature is the ability to return scientific payloads with a gentle touchdown at the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility—or any other runway over 8000 feet long. (The 30-foot-long glider’s touchdown speed is around 190 MPH, which necessitates a lengthy ground roll.) Cargo or crew capsules under parachute need to land somewhere desolate, and experience fairly violent deceleration when re-entering the atmosphere. Sierra Nevada says the Dream Chaser will experience re-entry loads around 1.5 g compared to 4-8 g for capsule systems.

The Dream Chaser has been making test flights in recent months while suspended under a helicopter, but this was the craft’s first untethered flight since October 2013. In the 2013 test, the Dream Chaser demonstrated a successful glide to landing, but was damaged after touchdown due to a landing gear issue.