Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) recent successful unmanned runway landing of its mini-shuttle “Dream Chaser” following a test flight in California was a preview of planned Kennedy Center touchdowns coming to the Space Coast in the next three years. The landing was reminiscent of NASA’s Enterprise, the original prototype space shuttle which occurred forty years ago. Though the Enterprise landed with a crew onboard, SNC’s Dream Chaser was guided to a stop at Edwards Air Force Base November 11, 2017, after deploying landing gear and traversing 4,200 feet on the runway.
Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) is well-known for its cutting-edge, innovative design in the Space, Aviation, Electronics, and Systems Integration arena. Utilizing the expertise of engineers, software developers, scientists, and cyber professionals, SNC employs 3,000 team members in 34 locations who are dedicated to solving the globe’s most complicated technology problems. With more than 50 years’ experience, SNC is a trusted leader, promising advanced and innovative solutions to technology’s toughest problems always on time and under budget.
SNC’s prototype mini shuttle, Dream Chaser completed a successful free flight of 60-seconds. The test flight was conducted as a simulation of the 2.5-mile return flight Dream Chaser would make following a trip into space. The test, known as a drop test, was completed via a helicopter at 12,500 feet. In flight computers then controlled the Dream Chaser making turns and lining it up for a runway touchdown with speeds near 190 miles per hour.
This most recent test came following four years of additional innovation since the first test revealed landing gear issues. The changes resulted in superior vehicle which made a significant step toward launches and landings in Florida. Following the successful drop test and landing, SNC is pressing ahead for a 2020 Dream Chaser launch to the International Space Station with a return landing at the Kennedy Space Center on the retired shuttle runway now operated by Space Florida.
With NASA’s blessing, the 60-second free flight will be the final test flight for Dream Chaser before the 2020 launch. It is anticipated that on the first two primary missions the mini-shuttle will be launched on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket making a supply run to the International Space Station. The successful flight met SNC’s final $8 million mark in its current NASA contract.
Though SNC failed to win the bid for flying astronauts to the ISS to Boeing and SpaceX, it was one of only three companies chosen for resupply contracts alongside Orbital ATK and SpaceX.
SNC anticipates a final review of Dream Chaser’s final design which includes a cargo module that can be attached to the orbiter’s back with the goal of transporting equipment, food, and scientific research to the ISS laboratory that orbits the Earth 250 miles above. Once the final review is complete, SNC will begin the selection and preparation of its Florida team of experts.
Though it looks similar to its predecessor, the mini-shuttle Dream Chaser measures about a fourth of the length of the original space shuttles. At 30-feet in length and 14,000 pounds, the test vehicle was stored in Enterprise’s NASA hanger before returning to Colorado. The Dream Chaser can carry 12,000 pounds of cargo. Differing from the original space shuttle, the Dream Chaser has no humans on board, thought SNC hasn’t ruled out a future version intended for people. Dream Chaser is showing the promise of more flexibility that the retired shuttle fleet, because it can land on a considerably shorter runway and can be launched on rockets other than the Atlas V.
With innovators like Sierra Nevada Corporation and its Dream Chaser, the future continues to look bright for Brevard County and the Space Coast.