Saturday, 18 November, 2017

Dream Chaser space plane successfully completes test flight

The Dream Chaser rolls out on Runway 22L at Edwards Air Force Base California. Credit NASA The Dream Chaser rolls out on Runway 22L at Edwards Air Force Base California. Credit NASA
Garry Little | 14 November, 2017, 00:39

Dream Chaser, which is about a quarter of the size of NASA's old shuttles, was added by NASA a year ago as a fourth privately-developed space ferry option.

"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. The craft has been in the works for more than 10 years and in 2016 the company was awarded the contract to transport cargo to and from the ISS for NASA. They're created to be used 15 or more times and have autonomous launch, flight and landing capabilities, according to Sierra Nevada Corp. (5,500 kilograms) of cargo to the International Space Station.

Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser spaceplane safely glided to the Edwards Air Force Base runway Saturday after being dropped from a helicopter in a free-flight test. Right now, two companies - SpaceX and Orbital ATK - hold contracts with NASA to periodically resupply the station through 2018. The company expects to start cargo missions sometime in 2020. Orbital ATK's capsule - known as Cygnus - is then created to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere once it leaves the station, while SpaceX's Dragon cargo capsule can survive the descent to Earth, using parachutes to land in the ocean.

The testing showcased the Dream Chaser's aerodynamic properties as well as flight software and control system performance.

The spacecraft will be launched on top of Atlas V rockets built by the United Launch Alliance and on its return to Earth it will land on the runway. The first one, back in 2013, didn't go all that smoothly: the vehicle's landing gears failed, causing the spaceplane to crash land and then skid off the runway. The successful flight had no passengers on board, and the vehicle flew itself instead of being controlled remotely.

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