Bolden meets Dream Chaser ETA ahead of her Dryden tests

by Chris Bergin

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden met with the Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) team and their Dream Chaser ETA (Engineering Test Article) at the Dryden Flight Research Center in California on Wednesday. General Bolden, a Shuttle veteran, also got to fly the baby orbiter via the vehicle’s flight simulator.

Dream Chaser at Dryden:

The Dream Chaser ETA’s Californian vacation marks the beginning of a number of key milestones in her goal of becoming the crew transport for NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).

Dream Chaser road tripFollowing a road trip from her base in Colorado, a journey that saw her partially disassembled and placed under a protective blanket, the ETA arrived at the famous NASA center, ready to becoming the latest winged lifting body to be tested over the expanses of the Edwards Air Force Base.

While numerous vehicles have enjoyed test flights at Dryden, Dream Chaser’s synergy with one particular vehicle is obvious.

That vehicle was Enterprise, a version of the Space Shuttle that received approval for its construction nine years before Columbia’s launch, resulting in the test vehicle being transported 36 miles over land from her Palmdale construction facility to Edwards Air Force Base and NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in 1977 for the series of Approach and Landing Tests (ALTs).

Enterprise during her ALTEver since the decision was made to test the ETA at Dryden, the historic association with the Enterprise was seen as a matter of importance within SNC.

“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,” noted Mark Sirangelo, Corporate Vice President and head of SNC’s Space Systems in an interview with’s Lee Jay Fingersh last year. “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.

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“It is like Enterprise and you could look at it like that way. It’s going to do an Enterprise-like testing called an ‘ALT’.”

Bolden meets Dream ChaserMarking Dream Chaser’s arrival, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden met with the SNC team and the ETA during a tour on Wednesday, noting the historical association with NASA lifting bodies in a speech in-front of both the ETA and a NASA M2-F1 – one of the first lifting bodies from the 1960s.

For Dream Chaser, her history ranges back to NASA Langley’s Horizontal Lander HL-20 lifting body design concept, a heritage that builds on years of analysis and wind tunnel testing by Langley engineers during the 1980s and 1990s.

Langley and SNC joined forces six years ago to update the HL-20 design in the Dream Chaser orbital crew vehicle to help refine the spacecraft design.

During the summer, the ETA will undergo ground and approach-and-landing flight tests later this Summer as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) development work.

“This will be the first full scale flight test of the Dream Chaser lifting body and will demonstrate the unique capability of our spacecraft to land on a runway,” noted Jim Voss, SNC’s vice president of Space Exploration Systems.

“Other flight tests will follow to validate the aerodynamic data used to control the vehicle in the atmosphere when it returns from space. This is a huge step forward for the SNC and NASA teams towards providing our nation with safe and reliable transportation to the International Space Station.”

Dream Chaser in captive flightThe tests will come in three key stages, noted as tow, captive-carry and free-flight.

The first test will involve the ETA being towed by a truck down a runway to validate performance of the nose strut, brakes and tires. The captive-carry flights will further examine the loads it will encounter during flight as it is carried by an Erickson Skycrane helicopter.

The free flight later this year will test Dream Chaser’s aerodynamics through landing.

“NASA Dryden has always played a vital role in the testing of American flight vehicles,” added Mr Sirangelo following the shipping of the ETA. “As the Dream Chaser program takes flight, this unique opportunity to conduct our tests at the same location as the Space Shuttle begin its flight brings great pride to our team.

“We are one step closer to returning U.S. astronauts on a U.S. vehicle to the International Space Station and in doing so continuing the long standing and proud legacy that was the Space Shuttle program.”

Bolden flying the simDuring General Bolden’s visit, the veteran of four Shuttle missions also got to “ride” in the Dream Chaser, via a simulator that mimics the approach to – and landing at – Edwards Air Force Base in California.

The simulation involves the final 10,000 feet and 60 seconds of a future Dream Chaser flight, a flight that has already been tested by astronauts at NASA Langley via a cockpit model simulator using the same software.

This allows astronauts to evaluate how well the spacecraft would handle in a number of different atmospheric conditions as well as assess its guidance and navigation performance.

Dream Chaser at the ISSThe transition to Dryden testing has earned Dream Chaser some welcome attention from the NASA big guns, with William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations, also singing the praises of the vehicle, SNC and the associated NASA teams.

“Unique public-private partnerships like the one between NASA and Sierra Nevada Corporation are creating an industry capable of building the next generation of rockets and spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the scientific proving ground of low-Earth orbit,” Mr Gerstenmaier noted.

“NASA centers around the country paved the way for 50 years of American human spaceflight, and they’re actively working with our partners to test innovative commercial space systems that will continue to ensure American leadership in exploration and discovery.”

(Images via NASA, SNC, L2 and Lee Jay Fingersh/

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