Dream Chaser Spacecraft Rolls Through Runway Test, Faces New Hurdles

The spaceship being built in Colorado continues to make progress here on Earth, although NASA announced today it will have to clear a few more hurdles before reaching space.

Sierra Nevada Corp. is designing and building the Dream Chaser spacecraft, which is a privately developed vehicle NASA could use to ferry up to seven astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station. The company has likened the Dream Chaser to the Space Shuttle’s little brother, and it would launch on a rocket and land on runways like NASA’s former workhorse.

SNC currently is testing the vehicle in California at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center, which is part of the famed Edwards Air Force Base. A video of the most recent tests is at the bottom of this article.

The company is designing and making the vehicle in Louisville, which is about 10 minutes outside Boulder, and Littleton, in the south Denver suburbs.

The Dream Chaser just finished a set of ground tests, and now NASA is adding two new milestones designed to test its design and reaction performance. The new tests are modifications of the agreement between the company and NASA under which Dream Chaser could get more than $212 million. They are part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability initiative—oh, for the days NASA named programs after the gods—in which SNC is competing against capsules built by Boeing (NYSE: BA) and SpaceX, Elon Musk’s company. Of the three vehicles, the Dream Chaser is the only one that can land and taxi like a plane.

The craft’s first airborne tests are approaching and could be as soon as the end of September, according to Sierra Nevada Corp. They include a test where the vehicle is hoisted around by a helicopter, which is known as a captive carry test, and the first approach and landing free flight test.

But before Dream Chaser can fly, it has to prove it can get around on land. It did that in a phase of testing that wrapped up last week.

A tow truck towed the Dream Chaser around runways at speeds up to 60 miles per hour before cutting it loose. The trial made sure Dream Chaser met standards for landing and rollout conditions. According to SNC and NASA, the ground tests verified Dream Chaser’s flight computer and flight software, instrumentation, guidance, navigation, and control system, braking and steering performance, flight control surface actuation, mission control and remote commanding capability, and landing gear dynamics.


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