Dream Chaser Nose Landing Gear Skid System ready for landing tests

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Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) have completed another milestone in their Commercial Crew Development (CCDev-2) contract with NASA, by testing the Dream Chaser’s Nose Landing Gear. The system comprises of a skid strip at the business end, which will be put to the test for real during the upcoming landing tests, scheduled to be conducted at the Dryden Flight Research Center later this year.

Dream Chaser:

The Dream Chaser is the only reusable lifting body vehicle in the running to transport American astronauts to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) destinations, such as the International Space Station (ISS). All the other CCDev competitors are of the capsule design.

Thanks to its lifting body shape, the Dream Chaser will sport around one thousand miles of theoretical cross range.

With this capability, the vehicle can land on a runway from virtually any point in the orbit, and can land on a CONUS runway in no longer than six hours.

As such, SNC class the vehicle as capable of something they believe the ISS program considers particularly valuable, which is its “dissimilar redundancy” when compared to capsules.

With a similar, yet smaller, appearance to the Space Shuttle orbiters, Dream Chaser will closely follow in the footsteps of its big sisters during landing.

SNC have already stated that the Dream Chaser’s home landing strip will be the 15,000 ft long Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), a runway physically marked by numerous orbiter landings over the history of the Space Shuttle Program (SSP).

Dream Chaser approach will be targeting a landing speed of 191 knots, after re-entering the atmosphere protected by a Thermal Protection System (TPS) that is similar to that on the Space Shuttle. It will touch down on its two Main Landing Gear (MLG) just like the shuttle orbiters.

Click here for recent SNC Dream Chaser articles: http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/?s=SNC

However, there will be one major difference when the nose is pitched forward, given the Dream Chaser will not be using a traditional Nose Landing Gear (NLG) wheel for its rollout. Instead, and inbuilt skid strip will touch the concrete floor of the SLF.

SNC have previously noted to NASASpaceFlight.com that this system is a simple, light, safe option. They also added that there had been some issues with the analysis of the performance of tires in the space environment and this eliminates one of the tires – with the other two tires easier to control than the nose wheel if there’s a problem with one of them.

Although their Concept Of Operations videos (L2 DCSS Section) show Dream Chaser was originally designed to utilize a front wheel, the Colorado company also noted they do not expect any issues, such as crosswind limitations, from using the skid during landing and rollout.

Last month, a major milestone was conducted to evaluate the impact forces experienced by the nose landing gear, in order to ensure safe runway landing capability of the Dream Chaser during approach and landing tests, as well as future orbital flights.

SNC’s test results were presented to NASA on June 25, 2012, and the successful milestone review was completed the same day. However, this success was not released by SNC and NASA until July 11, 2012, with the company also informing NASASpaceFlight.com – upon request – that no images or data will be released in relation to this test, although they did release a statement.

“This test marks a significant point in the development of the Dream Chaser orbital crew vehicle. As the last milestone before free flight of the Dream Chaser spacecraft, we are now preparing for the approach and landing tests to be flown later this year,” noted Jim Voss, Vice President of Space Exploration Systems and Program Manager for the Dream Chaser.

The Dream Chaser MLG was tested in a similar manner in February of this year and other systems that support the flight test are currently being installed and tested.

“Just like the space shuttle Orbiter vehicle, the performance of landing gear system must perform flawlessly for the safe return of the crew,” added CCP (Commercial Crew Program) manager Ed Mango, who has previously worked in the Space Shuttle Program. “It’s great to see that SNC is building on that experience while developing the Dream Chaser spacecraft.”

With 18 of their CCDev-2 milestones now completed, SNC are preparing their Dream Chaser Engineering Test Article (ETA) for its first approach and landing test scheduled for later this year at Edwards Air Force Base’s Dryden Flight Research Center – again showing some historical parallels to the early days of the Shuttle Program’s Approach and Landing Tests (ALTs) with Enterprise.

“Edwards is a historical place where many of America’s most famous planes and spacecraft have gotten tested and we like history in that regard. We think there’s a lot of value to it and so we’re going to be doing virtually the same thing that the first Shuttle tests did.”, noted Mark Sirangelo, Corporate Vice President and head of SNC’s Space Systems in an interview with NASASpaceflight.com’s Lee Jay Fingersh.

“It is like Enterprise and you could look at it like that way. It’s (the ETA) going to do an Enterprise-like testing called an ‘ALT’ or ‘Approach and Landing Test’.”

Mr Sirangelo noted that the testing will involve numerous runs and could involve a variety of carrier aircraft, starting with helicopters, later with other aircraft – such as White Knight Two. These initial tests will be uncrewed, to be followed by crewed tests.

(Images via L2 – via the new DC section, *L2 members click here* – with additional images via NASA and SNC)

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