Published: Tue, November 14, 2017
Science | By Cecil Little

The Dream Chaser Spacecraft

The Dream Chaser Spacecraft

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 craft was tested using a free-flight method, meaning it was brought up and then released to glide down and land unmanned on a runway, which it did according to plan.

If you miss NASA's space shuttles, you might like the Dream Chaser. NASA has awarded the company a Commercial Resupply Services contract to provide ISS resupply flights from 2019 to 2024. It's an important milestone in the Dream Chaser's development, as Sierra Nevada readies the plane for spaceflight. Sierra Nevada was picked for that round, along with SpaceX and Orbital ATK again.

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The company is planning both a manned version for astronauts and an unmanned version for cargo, both of which would be launched atop an expendable rocket. Unlike other spacecraft - the capsules that look like the vehicles that flew in the Apollo-era - the Dream Chaser has wings and wheels that allow it to land on a runway. 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. A company called SpaceDev resurrected the design, but after its founder left to form a space tourism company, SpaceDev was purchased by Sierra Nevada in 2008.

Sierra Nevada conducted a successful glide and landing test flight with its Dream Chaser spaceplane on Saturday, November 11. This landing seems to have gone much better, based on the pictures that Sierra Nevada released, though the company hasn't given much additional information.

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The Dream Chaser is an autonomous, self-flying spacecraft, and this iteration will not carry any people. The Dream Chaser from Sierra Nevada offers more reliable landings than the other two now offer.

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