Dream Chaser prepares for maiden flight as it undergoes rigorous NASA testing

Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser vehicle has successfully completed testing at NASA’s Neil Armstrong Test Facility, bringing it one step closer to its scheduled launch in the first half of 2024. The testing took place at the facility’s vibration chamber, where the vehicle was mated with its cargo module called Shooting Star. This cargo module has the capacity to carry 4,000 kilograms (9,000 pounds) of cargo internally, along with three attachment points for additional cargo and experiments.

The configuration of the Dream Chaser vehicle used in the testing will be the same during its first mission to the International Space Station (ISS) later this year. The vehicle was selected by NASA as part of the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-2) contracts, along with SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon and Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus vehicle, to regularly send science, supplies, and more to the ISS. Notably, Dream Chaser will be the second resupply craft to offer down mass capability, meaning it can return time-critical science experiments and research samples back to Earth.

Phil Dempsey, part of NASA’s ISS program, expressed excitement about Dream Chaser’s capabilities. On its first mission, the vehicle will deliver over 7,800 pounds of cargo, with potential for increased capacity in future missions. Dempsey also emphasized the significance of a winged vehicle returning to the space station and landing on a runway, similar to the space shuttle program that ended in 2011. The return capability of Dream Chaser opens up possibilities for more efficient transfer of cargo and research back to Earth.

Following the vibration testing, the vehicle will be moved to NASA Glenn’s In-Space Propulsion Facility, where it will undergo tests simulating the environment of low pressure and temperature that it will experience in orbit. By subjecting the vehicle to these conditions, Sierra Space aims to reduce risks and identify and resolve issues before launch. After this, the vehicle will be transported to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for launch preparations.

Sierra Space has been collaborating with astronauts to train them on the vehicle’s usage and integration with the ISS. The frequency of ISS flights utilizing Dream Chaser is a joint decision between Sierra Space and NASA, taking into account the station’s needs and the vehicle’s capabilities. The company is planning multiple flights for Tenacity, the first Dream Chaser vehicle, as well as a second vehicle called Reverence, which is currently under construction.

Sierra Space is also seeking opportunities to launch from international locations and potentially land at runways in those countries. The aim is to create a more global approach to space operations, taking advantage of suitable launch latitudes worldwide. CEO Tom Vice believes we are now in the “orbital age,” where commercialization of low-Earth orbit is becoming more accessible and affordable. This age will see the expansion of industries into space, with companies operating factories in microgravity and establishing a permanent human presence beyond Earth.

In summary, Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser vehicle has completed testing at NASA’s Neil Armstrong Test Facility, marking an important milestone in its journey towards its first launch in 2024. With its cargo module and down mass capability, Dream Chaser is set to play an important role in resupplying the International Space Station and returning time-critical experiments to Earth. The collaboration between Sierra Space and NASA will shape the future of space exploration and commercialization in the orbital age.