Sierra Nevada Corp tests Dream Chaser spacecraft

Dream Chaser Space Vehicle | Sierra Nevada Corporation | SNC

Sierra Nevada Corp (SNC) revealed its spacecraft underwent a free-flight test, launching from a helicopter and landing at the Edwards Air Force Base in California's Mojave Desert. The company said several hours after the test that the glide flight was a success, and would release more details November 13.

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

This successful test, though, should keep Dream Chaser on track for a debut spaceflight within the next two years. It is about 30 feet long (9 meters) and capable of hauling up to 12,125 lbs. The unmanned craft is created to launch atop a rocket and shuttle cargo and supplies to the International Space Station, and then return to land on a runway with experiments and samples from the space station.

Dream Chaser is a derivative project from NASA's 1990s HL-20 Launch System, which in turn was inspired by the Soviet Spiral program, a series of spacecraft developed for space warfare and orbital-glide bombing since the late 1960s.

Dream Chaser was carrying the same space-grade avionics that it'll use for ISS missions, Sierra Nevada said. Right now, two companies - SpaceX and Orbital ATK - hold contracts with NASA to periodically resupply the station through 2018. The spacecraft will launch on Atlas V rockets built by the United Launch Alliance and make runway landings.

Saturday's free-flight test "verified and validated the performance of the Dream Chaser in the critical final approach and landing phase of flight, meeting expected models for a future return from the International Space Station", Armstrong officials said, adding that more tests will likely follow.

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