Dream Chaser ‘Spaceplane’ Breezes Through Ground Tests
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
The Dream Chaser spacecraft is progressing as expected through ground tests at a California facility, NASA announced this week.
Developed by the Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), Dream Chaser is described as a spaceplane capable of flying at sub-orbital and orbital altitudes. The space agency has plans to use the craft for sending personnel and supplies to and from the International Space Station.
Earlier this month, the Dream Chaser completed its fourth incremental ground test – being towed at 60 mph down a runway at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in southern California. The incremental tests at 10, 20, 40 and 60 mph were designed to test the vehicles braking and landing systems.
“The dedicated Dream Chaser team has been putting the test spacecraft through comprehensive integrated testing on the runway, ramps and hangar of the historic California site, finding issues on the ground and addressing them in preparation for upcoming free flights,” said Cheryl McPhillips, NASA Partner Manager.
After arriving at the facility in May, workers attached the vehicle’s tail and wings. Over the course of two months, SNC engineers performed the low- and high-speed ground tow tests to confirm the integrity of the assembled spacecraft’s performance under landing and roll-out conditions. The company is able to utilize the NASA facilities and flight-test personnel through the reimbursable Space Act Agreement.
“We are happy to contribute our flight research and testing expertise to this project,” said NASA Dryden center director David McBride. “Dryden has a rich history of testing advances in aerospace technology from the early lifting body aircraft, through the shuttle program and now the next generation of manned spacecraft.”
SNC tests have included testing the craft’s flight software, instrumentation, braking and steering performance, remote commanding capability, and landing gear dynamics.
“We are very excited to complete this series of tests and achieve another critical milestone for our Dream Chaser flight test program,” said Steve Lindsey, a senior director at SNC and a former NASA astronaut. “Watching Dream Chaser undergo tow testing on the same runway where we landed several space shuttle orbiters brings a great amount of pride to our Dream Chaser team.”
According to SNC, the ground tests are a precursor to a free flight test also expected to be carried out at the Dryden facility.
“I look forward to seeing this bird land on the old shuttle runway this fall,” said McPhillips. “SNC and our other partners are working diligently to enable this country to safely fly crew from and back to the U.S.”
Flight testing will be performed as a part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program. Funded by the federal government and run by NASA, CCDev is dedicated to fostering privately operated manned vehicles in low-Earth orbit.
NASA kicked off the program by awarding a combined $50 million to five American companies in 2010. The money was intended to stimulate research and development into human spaceflight ideas and technologies. In 2011, NASA announced that they would award around $270 million to four companies that meet objectives of the project’s next phase, dubbed CCDev 2.