Dream Chaser completes successful glide test

Sierra Nevada Corporation's privately built Dream Chaser space plane aced a critical test Saturday (Nov. 11) during a successful free-flight over California's Mojave Desert.

The spacecraft is still in its prototype phase so any data gathered from the test will help influence the final design of Dream Chaser.

Below, photos and renderings of the new spacecraft. Under that agreement, Sierra Nevada will fly at least six cargo delivery missions for NASA by 2024, agency officials said in the November 11 statement.

Commercial crew was a follow-on to the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) or "commercial cargo" program that led to the SpaceX and Orbital ATK uncrewed systems that resupply ISS today - Falcon 9/Dragon and Antares/Cygnus.

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SNC released a video of the test and held a media teleconference this afternoon.

Sirangelo compared the tests with this vehicle to those flown by NASA in 1977 of the space shuttle orbiter Enterprise.

"The lifting-body design gives Dream Chaser a higher lift-to-drag ratio and allows for greater cross-range landing capability, meaning the landing zone (or places where it can land) is greatly increased", said the company. But in 2014, NASA didn't pick the Dream Chaser to do crewed flights to the ISS, going with SpaceX and Boeing's proposed vehicles instead. It's also designed with a "lifting body" meaning it can land nearly anywhere.

Dream Chaser looks much like a miniature version of a NASA space shuttle. The first launch of the laboratory version of the vehicle is expected in 2021, Sirangelo said, pointing out that the company has received an "overwhelming" response to its call for science proposals issued in September at the International Astronautical Congress in Australia.

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The free-flight test came just over two months after the company performed a tow test on the vehicle on August 29. The Dream Chaser, however, which is meant to launch on top of an Atlas V rocket, glides down to Earth like a plane after reentering the atmosphere, landing horizontally on a runway.

SNC hopes to fly the first Dream Chaser to the ISS as early as 2020.

The successful flight test was a relief for those at the company who have spent years working on the vehicle, including an October 2013 glide flight that both the company and NASA considered a success even though a landing gear problem caused it to skid off the runway after landing.

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  • Israel Montgomery