Spaceflight Insider

Dream Chaser spacecraft passes 3rd integration review milestone

An artist's rendering of Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser cargo vehicle docked with the International Space Station. Image credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation

An artist’s rendering of Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser cargo vehicle docked with the International Space Station. Image Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) announced on May 25, 2017, that the firm’s Dream Chaser spacecraft passed its third integration review under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS2) contract. This latest review evaluated whether the spacecraft’s system design met NASA’s key mission requirements to send cargo to the International Space Station.

“Passing the third CRS2 integration milestone is a really big deal for the program and its future,” said Steve Lindsey, vice president of space exploration systems for SNC’s Space Systems division. “We are proud of this accomplishment and are well on our way towards completing the next critical milestone and the remaining developmental phases. It’s a great feeling to be executing all our milestones on schedule and to be moving forward to our operational flight.”

Dream Chaser was selected by NASA in January 2016 for the CRS-2 contract. The spaceplane, along with SpaceX’s Dragon and Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft, will work to send a minimum of six resupply missions to the space station.

The spaceplane is a modification of the crewed version that the company was developing for the space agency’s Commercial Crew Program. However, during the final down select round, NASA favored Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon instead.

Moving right along

This third review amounts to a preliminary design review (PDR) under NASA’s process. The review found no significant design, build, or system issues with Dream Chaser. From here, SNC will continue to refine the spacecraft’s hardware. In addition to the overall system review, the company accomplished the following:

  • Completed the NASA Phase 1 Safety Review.
  • Submitted (and had approved) 32 Hazard Reports and 16 Safety Data Packages.
  • Ensured that Dream Chaser Architectural Design’s met all CRS2 requirements (hardware, software, flight dynamics, thermal control, etc.).
  • Delivered more than 100 detailed design documents, as well as 30+ design reviews.
  • Briefed more than 1,000 charts to the NASA and Federal Aviation Administration team, demonstrating that Dream Chaser is at a PDR level of maturity.
  • Completed launch vehicle operations, outside subcontracts, and agreements.
  • Submitted a range safety plan, as well as FAA, Federal Communications Commission, and National Telecommunications and Information Administration licensing.
  • Conducted 5 Safety Review Phase 1 meetings prior to the third integration review, which involved delivering 46 individual Safety Data Packages developed by the Safety and Mission Assurance team.

Meanwhile, in the hardware world

While all of the paperwork has been in the works, the company’s Dream Chaser atmospheric test vehicle is at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California being prepared for testing, it is hoped that this will help SNC validate the spacecraft’s aerodynamic properties, flight software, and control system performance.

Dream Chaser has been at Armstrong since January of this year (2017). The development in the vehicle’s hardware and software should prepare the test article for a gliding approach and landing flight on Edwards Air Force Base’s Runway 22L.

The reliability of the Dream Chaser design was also thoroughly reviewed as part of NASA’s Phase I Safety Review Process, which successfully demonstrated safety and mission assurance criteria. The reviews covered all stages of mission operations including ground, launch, flight, and landing.

When fully operational, Dream Chaser should be able to fly up to 12,125 pounds (5,500 kilograms) of cargo to the space station and return almost 4,400 pounds (2,000 kilograms) via a runway landing at a specific location. Its first orbital test is currently scheduled for 2019 when it is slated to be launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. If everything goes as it is presently planned, the spacecraft should conduct at least six missions between 2019 and 2024.



Bart Leahy is a freelance technical writer living in Orlando, Florida. Leahy's diverse career has included work for The Walt Disney Company, NASA, the Department of Defense, Nissan, a number of commercial space companies, small businesses, nonprofits, as well as the Science Cheerleaders.

Reader Comments

This milestone was not to evaluate requirements for crew as stated in your story, these milestones are for cargo only.

I hope they can go beyond cargo missions.

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