Qualification testing begins on Dream Chaser’s rocket motor

by Chris Bergin

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) have begun qualification testing on the hybrid rocket motor that will provide propulsion to their Dream Chaser vehicle in space. The initiation of testing is part of the company’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) milestones, as they continue to set their sights on transporting NASA astronauts to the ISS.

Dream Chaser Progress:

The Dream Chaser Engineering Test Article (ETA) is currently undergoing preparations for key CCiCAP testing at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center.

ETA at DrydenThe ETA – provisionally named “Eagle”, per L2 – was recently shipped to California from her home in Colorado, ahead of a series of tests that will be conducted through the summer.

These tests include objectives both on the runway and in flight, the latter resulting in the ETA undergoing a series of drop tests from a helicopter.

The data from the testing will help SNC fine tune their vehicle design, ahead of the major construction of their Flight Test Vehicle (FTV) – which may already have a name of its own, per L2 Dream Chaser coverage.

Dream Chaser with CentaurThe FTA will be an upgraded version of the ETA, given it will be designed to be human rated for its test flight in space. However, it is now likely the third Dream Chaser, the Orbital Vehicle (OV), will be the first to head into space.

Although the threat of a Commercial Crew down-select hangs over the heads of the three main CCiCAP participants, SNC are making good progress in presenting Dream Chaser as a vehicle of choice for providing NASA astronauts with domestic launch and transportation to the ISS.

While current schedules show the first NASA crew to ride uphill on a commercial vehicle – known as USCV-1 – isn’t expected until the end of 2017 at the earliest, SNC are expected to select an internal crew to ride with Dream Chaser on her first mission into space.

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

For that opening mission – likely to take place in either 2015 or 2016 – the Dream Chaser OV will be mated atop of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V, lofting the spaceplane uphill, prior to the Centaur Upper Stage providing the final powered leg to Dream Chaser’s initial orbit.

Dream Chaser Deorbit BurnOnce separated, Dream Chaser will have her own propulsive ability on orbit – and for the de-orbit burn – via the use of two hybrid rocket motors on her aft.

The Dream Chaser version of the hybrid rocket motor was last tested in 2010 under the Commercial Crew Development Program (CCDev-1) Space Act Agreement, during which SNC completed three successful test firings of a single hybrid motor in one day.

In addition to manufacturing these motors for Dream Chaser, SNC also manufactures the hybrid motors for Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo vehicle, which has undergone test firings on dozens of hybrid motors over the last two years.

SpaceShipTwo also successfully completed its first powered flight test using SNC’s hybrid motor to power the vehicle to an altitude of 55,000 feet and reaching Mach 1.2.

As part of the CCiCAP milestones, SNC have now announced the successful opening salvo of their latest phase of hybrid rocket motor qualification, via the completion of two tests at its rocket test facility in San Diego, California.

Test FiringThis new series of testing involved the motor firing and ignition tests, conducted to validate Dream Chaser’s motor test stand, paving the way for a future heavy weight motor test series this summer, with minimal test stand risk

“We are eager to begin the next series of motor testing for Dream Chaser,” noted Mark Sirangelo corporate vice president and head of SNC’s Space Systems.

“With the successful qualification this week in San Diego and the success of the powered flight of SpaceShipTwo, we are even more confident that our hybrid motor technology is the safest and most reliable system for human transportation.”

Fleet of Dream Chasers in a clean floor OPFSNC’s hybrid rocket systems offer a safe, high performing, and non-toxic alternative to solid and hydrazine liquid propulsion systems.

As the rocket motor fuel is industrial rubber, the company notes there are no special handling or transportation requirements, which greatly reduces the life cycle cost to customers.

The lack of toxic propellants also provides less restrictions during processing flows, although SNC have yet to select where Dream Chaser will be processed for flights, despite a level of interest in one of Kennedy Space Center’s Orbiter Processing Facilities (OPF).

(Images via SNC and L2 )

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