Sierra Space's Dream Chaser

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Dream Chaser
Dream Chaser
American reusable lifting-body spaceplane
Manufacturer
Sierra Space
Country of origin
United States
Applications
ISS resupply, crewed orbital spaceplane for low Earth orbit missions
Sierra Space's Dream Chaser is a reusable, autonomous spaceplane designed to transport cargo to low-Earth orbit (LEO) destinations, such as the International Space Station (ISS). Developed by Sierra Space, a spin-off from Sierra Nevada Corporation, Dream Chaser represents a significant advancement in space transportation technology.

Key Features and Design

  1. Reusable Spaceplane: Dream Chaser is designed to be reused up to 15 times, significantly reducing the cost of space missions.
  2. Lifting Body Design: The spaceplane features a unique lifting body design, which combines the flexibility of an aircraft with the capabilities of a spacecraft. This design allows for a smooth 1.5 low-G re-entry and landing on conventional runways.
  3. Cargo Capacity: The spaceplane can carry up to 5,000 kg of pressurized cargo and 500 kg of unpressurized cargo. It is equipped with the Shooting Star cargo module, which adds an additional 4,500 kg of payload capacity.
  4. Autonomous Operations: Dream Chaser is fully autonomous, capable of launching, flying, and landing without human intervention. It can land on commercial runways worldwide, making it highly versatile.

Development and Testing

  1. Environmental Testing: Dream Chaser has undergone rigorous environmental tests, including shock, vibration, and thermal vacuum tests at NASA’s Neil Armstrong Test Facility in Ohio. These tests are crucial for ensuring the spacecraft can withstand the harsh conditions of space travel.
  2. Power-Up Milestone: In May 2023, Sierra Space successfully powered up Dream Chaser for the first time, marking a significant milestone in its development. This test involved activating the spaceplane's integrated systems using simulated solar power.
  3. Final Preparations: The spacecraft is currently being prepared for its first launch, which is expected to take place in the fall of 2024. This launch will be the first of seven cargo missions contracted by NASA under the Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) program.

Mission and Operations

  1. First Flight: The first flight of Dream Chaser, named Tenacity, is scheduled for 2024. This mission will deliver over 7,800 pounds of cargo to the ISS and conduct in-orbit demonstrations to certify the spacecraft for future missions.
  2. Launch Vehicle: Dream Chaser will be launched atop United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket. The spacecraft will be enclosed in a five-meter fairing during ascent, with its wings deployed once in orbit.
  3. Landing and Reusability: After completing its mission, Dream Chaser will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and glide to a runway landing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The spaceplane's thermal protection system, made up of silica-based tiles and TUFROC material, ensures it can withstand re-entry and be quickly turned around for subsequent missions.

Future Prospects

  1. Crewed Version: Sierra Space is also developing a crewed version of Dream Chaser, which will be capable of carrying up to seven astronauts to and from LEO. This variant is expected to play a significant role in future human spaceflight missions.
  2. Commercial Applications: Beyond NASA missions, Dream Chaser is poised to support a variety of commercial applications, including scientific research, technological advancements, and economic opportunities in space. Sierra Space is also working on a commercial space station, Orbital Reef, in partnership with Blue Origin.
In summary, Sierra Space's Dream Chaser is a groundbreaking spaceplane that combines advanced technology with reusability and versatility, making it a key player in the future of space transportation and commercialization.
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