Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser Conducts Critical Flight Test

Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser Conducts Critical Flight Test

Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser Conducts Critical Flight Test

On Saturday, private spaceflight company Sierra Nevada announced that its Dream Chaser spaceplane had successfully glided and landed on a runway after being released from a helicopter.

Dream Chaser also recently gained a cargo contract with NASA to cart food, water, and scientific research to and from the International Space Station (ISS).

The craft then made a completely autonomous descent and landing, rolling out about 4,200 feet on an Edwards Air Force Base runway in the high desert north of Los Angeles.

Sierra Nevada Corporation said the test was a success and pledged to give more details on Monday. The cargo-carrying spaceplane is expected to supply the ISS for NASA.

However, in 2016, the space agency awarded SNC a contract under the Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) program. NASA funded several companies, including SNC, through a succession of development activities in the first half of the decade, one of which was the Commercial Crew Integrated Capabilities (CCiCAP) program.

The company is planning both a manned version for astronauts and an unmanned version for cargo, both of which would be launched atop an expendable rocket. The vehicle passed a preliminary design review earlier this year, meaning "there were no showstoppers along the way for us to go fly the vehicle", he said. The vehicle occupied the same hanger that Nasa used before for its Space Shuttle Enterprise in the late 1970s.

SNC also has an agreement with the United Nations to fly global payloads into orbit and back on the Dream Chaser.

The CRS2 contract with NASA is guaranteed for only six flights. The U.S. Air Force's two mysterious X-37B spaceplanes - which are roughly the same size as Dream Chaser - have flown four unmanned missions since 2010, totaling more than 2,000 days in space. During a tow test, a pick-up truck drags the spacecraft up to 60 miles per hour, then releases it and lets the vehicle stop itself.

Like the test in 2013, today's approach and landing test involved dropping the Dream Chaser from a helicopter, then having it glide autonomously to an airplane-like landing on Edwards' runway.

SNC already has signed an agreement with the United Launch Alliance (ULA) to send the first Dream Chaser into orbit aboard a ULA Atlas V rocket.

"I'm so proud of the Dream Chaser team for their continued excellence", said SNC CEO Fatih Ozmen in a statement.

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