Dream Chaser prepares for next free flight, ISS resupply aims

by Chris Bergin

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has successfully concluded the first of its CRS2 contract milestones, as it pushes towards missions – via the cargo version of the Dream Chaser spacecraft – to conduct resupply runs to the International Space Station (ISS). Meanwhile, the company is also continuing to prepare the crew Dream Chaser for a second free flight in California.

Dream Chaser:

Despite no longer progressing in NASA’s lucrative Commercial Crew Program, the crew capable Dream Chaser still has one major obligation to complete under its CCiCAP milestones.

That will see the vehicle once again take a trip to California, this time in the hope of successfully concluding a free flight and landing at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center.

Z7The return trip to Dryden is a direct following on from the events of 2013.

While that flight is still best known for the landing gear failure, it was still a hugely successful test, proving the vehicle could fly, and fly well – something that could only be confirmed via a full scale flight.

There was some doubt SNC would make a second attempt, given the costs would likely be more than the milestone payment.

However, armed with a Space Act Agreement (SAA) and the potential alternative uses of the Dream Chaser via numerous Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) deals, SNC is aiming to push their vehicle to a successful conclusion of the test program, with transportation from her Colorado base understood to be in the August/September time frame.

2016-07-11-225441“SNC plans to resume the next phase of flight testing for Dream Chaser later this year. This vehicle was originally developed and tested in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program through Space Act Agreements (SAA),” the company noted on Monday.

“It was previously flown at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center and is being prepared for its second flight test through the SAA.”

With the CRS2 contract award, SNC will also gain additional data for its “next generation” vehicle via the free flight test of the crew-derived Dream Chaser that was previously called the ETA (Engineering Test Article) and is now being internally tagged as the Flight Test Article (FTA).

“It has been significantly upgraded in multiple areas to allow for testing to advance and verify critical systems which will also be used in the next generation vehicle currently under development for the forthcoming NASA ISS cargo resupply missions.”

That “next generation” vehicle is the Dream Chaser Cargo System, an uncrewed version of the spacecraft.

This variant has now completed the ISS Integration Certification Milestone 1 for the Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS2) contract, as confirmed by SNC on Monday.

2016-07-11-230041Under the CRS2 contract, Dream Chaser will provide a minimum of six cargo delivery services to and from the ISS between 2019 and 2024. The contract award was provided to SNC, along with Orbital ATK and SpaceX, in January.

Many believe Dream Chaser was very unlucky to miss out on the CCtCAP phase of NASA’s CCP goals, with one of its major highlights, “dissimilar redundancy” – when compared to the array of capsule-style spacecraft – cited by NASA during the CRS2 award, but not during the CCP advancement process.

This point was not lost on John Olson, the vice president for space systems for Sierra Nevada Corp, noting that the unique nature of Dream Chaser provides her with an individual platform of capability.

2016-07-11-230208“Dream Chaser is a 21st-century reusable lifting body vehicle and is designed as a Space Shuttle replacement, a space utility vehicle – with upmass and downmass capability that makes us pretty excited about the utilization of the ISS.”

Notably, Mr. Olson said SNC is developing Dream Chaser “initially” to carry cargo, adding that the company’s ambition of crewed vehicles remains on the table.

For her cargo role, this first milestone saw NASA approve SNC’s complete program implementation plan for the design, development, test and evaluation of the Dream Chaser Cargo System.

2016-07-11-230536This includes plans and processes for meeting technical performance and CRS2 integration schedules associated with execution of docking and berthing missions to the ISS.

Details included supplier plans, integration schedules, organizational structure and status of program risks and risk mitigations.

In addition to SNC internal program integration, the milestone review covers the strategic plan for the involvement of external entities including international agreements and plans for obtaining necessary licenses from U.S. agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Aviation Administration.

“The accelerated completion of the first milestone under the CRS2 contract award marks significant progress for SNC and the Dream Chaser program”, noted Mark N. Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s Space Systems business area.  “We are thankful for the support we’ve received from NASA.

2016-07-11-230402“The prompt completion of this essential program milestone is a big step in bringing us closer to returning a winged, runway-landing vehicle to space.

“This momentum will carry us with confidence in developing a reliable and affordable solution for ISS cargo delivery, return and disposal.”

Per current schedule goals, Mr. Olson added the inaugural Dream Chaser cargo flight to ISS is aiming for a launch – on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V – as early as October 2019, or as late as April 2020.

The company is aiming to build two Dream Chasers, able to fly a total of 30 times over a 10 year lifetime.

(Images: SNC, NASA and L2 including renders from L2 artist Nathan Koga – The full gallery of Nathan’s (SpaceX Dragon to MCT, SLS, Commercial Crew and more) L2 images can be *found here*)

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