The Hangar / Dream Chaser
Dream Chaser is a reusable winged spacecraft being built by the Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) to support crew and cargo flights to the International Space Station (ISS) as well as other missions. Dream Chaser began as an project by the entrepreneurial space company SpaceDev as an update to NASA’s lifting body technology. The project was taken up by SNC after the company acquired SpaceDev in 2008.
SNC proposed the Dream Chaser vehicle under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS), making it to a second due-diligence review in 2009. Awarded a $20 million Space Act Agreement (SAA) in December 2009, SNC completed their last milestones under that SAA in December 2010.
In April 2011, a second Commercial Crew Development (CCDev 2) Space Act split $270 million among SNC, Boeing, Blue Origin, and SpaceX for further development of their crewed systems, of which SNC received $80 million. In August 2012, NASA narrowed these four competitors to three: Boeing ($460 million), SpaceX ($440 million), and Sierra Nevada ($212.5 million) under the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) Space Act Agreements. When it came time to provide cargo for ISS under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program in 2014, however, SNC was not awarded a contract, though they did complete eight milestones under an unfunded Space Act Agreement.
Despite the contractual setback, SNC continued developing Dream Chaser and sought out other potential customers. In 2015, SNC created a new initiative called theDream Chaser Preferred Landing Site Program. The program was designed to provide potential landing sites for Dream Chaser by offering assistance to spaceports and commercial airports that may want to become designated landing locations. In 2016, SNC signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Telespazio, the European Space Agency (ESA), and OHB System AG (OHB) to develop the “Dream Chaser for European Utilization” (DC4EU). SNC also signed another MOU with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs to provide affordable opportunities for UN member nations to perform experiments in space.
Finally, in early 2016, SNC was awarded a contract under the CRS-2 round of commercial cargo funding. SNC has continued testing Dream Chaser’s avionics, controls, and landing systems. During one drop test, the test vehicle’s landing gear—not the planned flight hardware—collapsed, causing the glider to skid along the runway at Armstrong Flight Research Center and then flip over. Since then, the test vehicle has been repaired and upgraded. SNC completed an initial milestone review for CRS-2 in July 2016 and a second review a couple weeks later. It is planning to conduct another drop test and additional avionics testing in spring 2017. According to SNC Corporate Vice President Mark Sirangelo, the first flight vehicle is in production. SNC hopes to launch Dream Chaser to ISS in 2019.
The Dream Chaser spacecraft builds upon NASA’s HL-20 vehicle and the Space Shuttle. The vehicle is 30 feet (or 9 meters) long, approximately one quarter the total length of a Space Shuttle orbiter (122 feet/37 meters). The Dream Chaser spacecraft resembles the Space Shuttle in that it is designed to launch vertically like a rocket, dock with ISS in orbit, and return to Earth as a glider with winglets at the aft end to control its course. It is also painted white on top and black on the nose and underside. However, Dream Chaser differs from Shuttle in that it is small enough to be launched atop an Atlas V rocket and, with its winglets folded, can fit within a 16.4-foot (5-meter) fairing. The spacecraft also has a “pusher” type of launch abort system.
Dream Chaser is being designed with both crew and cargo variants. The crewed version of the spacecraft will be able to carry up to seven astronauts plus cargo. The cargo version will include capacity for up to 12,125 pounds (5,500 kg) of pressurized and unpressurized cargo via a detachable crew module aft. The aft module also includes solar arrays for power during orbital flight.
The spacecraft is capable of docking or berthing with the ISS and could performing a variety of other missions in LEO including: remote sensing, satellite servicing; free-flying, self-contained science or manufacturing; serving as an exploration testbed; or performing active debris removal.
The winglets, or fins, provide directional stability in flight. Lift is created by the body of the vehicle (the underside) which is wide and flat. The lifting-body shape and low-g reentry allow SNC to provide a Thermal Protection System (TPS) and vehicle that are fully reusable and able to reach airport runways with pinpoint accuracy. The lifting-body design also gives Dream Chaser a high lift-to-drag ratio and allows for greater cross-range landing capability, increasing the number of potential landing sites.
Dream Chaser will experience atmospheric entry with a maximum of only 1.5 g throughout flight. This attribute will reduce stresses on sensitive payloads and deconditioned or injured crew members returning from space.
Dream Chaser spacecraft is designed to be reused 15 or more times. Design, manufacturing, and assembly are based in Louisville, Colorado. For NASA missions, vehicle refurbishment between flights will be performed at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The cargo version of DreamChaser is encapsulated within a 16.4-foot (5-meter) fairing, and is launched aboard an Atlas V 541, Delta IV Heavy, Falcon 9, or even an Ariane 5. Once launched and clear of the atmosphere, the fairing separates, the cargo module’s solar arrays deploy, and the spacecraft maneuvers toward ISS. Once within rendezvous range, Dream Chaser can dock or be berthed to a docking node using the ISS robotic arm. The robotic arm also can be used to retrieve unpressurized cargo from the cargo module. SNC has depicted Dream Chaser as being capable of performing a station reboost if needed.
When cargo has been discharged and downmass added, Dream Chaser undocks and positions itself for return to Earth, jettisoning its after cargo module in the process. The cargo module is destroyed during atmospheric reentry. Dream Chaser continues to reenter on a gradual, low-g trajectory and, once within the atmosphere proper, uses its winglets to glide toward its landing site. The spacecraft lands horizontally at Kennedy Space Center’s former Shuttle Launch Facility (runway) or another suitable (10,000-foot/3,048-meter) runway with two wheeled main landing gear aft and a landing skid forward. Once the vehicle reaches a complete stop, it can be unloaded. Cargo and other materials are unloaded via the hatch aft.
The crewed version of Dream Chaser can launch aboard an Atlas V 411, Delta IV Heavy, Falcon 9, or Ariane 5. Unlike the cargo version, the crewed version of Dream Chaser is placed atop the launch vehicle without a fairing on top. Instead, a conformal aerodynamic adapter attached to the aft section of Dream Chaser covers its engines and connects the spacecraft to the launch vehicle’s second stage. Crew enter the spacecraft via the launch tower’s crew access arm into a hatch atop the middle of the fuselage.
After launch and completion of the second-stage burn, the adapter is jettisoned, and the spacecraft uses its own propulsion system to maneuver toward ISS. Once within rendezvous distance of ISS, Dream Chaser approaches the Station and docks tail first.
When cargo has been discharged and downmass added, Dream Chaser undocks and positions itself for return to Earth. Dream Chaser reenters Earth’s atmosphere on a gradual, low-g trajectory and, once within the atmosphere proper, uses its winglets to glide toward its landing site. The spacecraft lands horizontally at Kennedy Space Center’s former Shuttle Launch Facility (runway) or another suitable (10,000-foot/3,048-meter) runway with two wheeled main landing gear aft and a landing skid forward. Once the vehicle reaches a complete stop, it can be unloaded. Crew, cargo, and other materials are unloaded via the hatch aft.
During one drop test, the test vehicle’s landing gear—not the planned flight hardware—collapsed, causing the glider to skid along the runway at Armstrong Flight Research Center and then flip over. Since then, the test vehicle has been repaired and upgraded. SNC completed an initial milestone review for CRS-2 in July 2016 and a second review a couple weeks later. It is planning to conduct another drop test and additional avionics testing in spring 2017. SNC hopes to launch Dream Chaser to ISS in 2019.
In February 2017, the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump administration advisers were considering a public-private crewed mission aboard the Dream Chaser spacecraft to keep the aging Hubble Space Telescope operational. The proposed mission would not happen before 2019 and would require support from the next NASA administrator.
|Length||9 m (13.7 m with cargo module)|
|Crew||Up to 7|
Pressurized: 5,000 kg
Unpressurized: 1,500 kg on five separate mounting locations
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- April 26, 2019: Progress continues on Dream Chaser space plane
- March 24, 2019: Dream Chaser passes latest NASA development milestone
- December 13, 2017: SNC taps AZUR SPACE to produce cargo Dream Chaser solar panels
- November 14, 2017: Dream Chaser completes successful glide test
- September 1, 2017: Huntsville seeks FAA approval to host Dream Chaser landings at HSV
- July 20, 2017: Contract brings Dream Chaser flights closer to reality
- July 18, 2017: Sierra Nevada ground tests Dream Chaser’s steering, brakes
- May 27, 2017: Dream Chaser spacecraft passes 3rd integration review milestone