A test version of the Dream Chaser, a reusable spacecraft that resembles a small space shuttle, made a successful free flight and landing in California after being hoisted by helicopter high over the Mojave Desert, officials of Sierra Nevada Corp. said Monday.
The Nov. 11, 2017, automated test went as planned, according to an SNC statement. They're created to be used 15 or more times and have autonomous launch, flight and landing capabilities, according to Sierra Nevada Corp.
The spacecraft is still in its prototype phase so any data gathered from the test will help influence the final design of Dream Chaser. The vehicle met expected models for a future return from the space station.
It's been in development by the Sparks, Nevada, company for more than 10 years. It flew the same final approach and landing profile it would were it returning from the ISS.
The testing showcased the Dream Chaser's aerodynamic properties as well as flight software and control system performance.
"In the future we believe Dream Chaser will land anywhere a 737 jet can land", Lindsey said. 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. This involved attaching Dream Chaser to a pickup truck that would pull it some 60 miles per hour (about 95 km/h).
The company tweeted photos of the craft gliding to a landing at Edwards Air Force Base on Saturday. During a captive carry test, a helicopter lifts the spacecraft and lets it practice its moves. Since then, Sierra Nevada has been modifying the Dream Chaser to just carry cargo. The Dream Chaser from Sierra Nevada offers more reliable landings than the other two now offer.
The United States has relied on private contracts as well as the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos to get its astronauts and supplies to the ISS since the Space Shuttle was taken out of service in 2011. He said, however, that Dream Chaser will be able to be launched on a variety of launch vehicles, not only Atlas V, which is due to be phased out in the early 2020s. Others include the SpaceX Dragon and Orbital ATK's Cygnus, which have both been flying missions for several years. It will sport an expandable cargo module at the rear that will feature solar panels and a docking mechanism.