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Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser Spacecraft on Track for November 2016 Launch

By Marc Boucher
August 6, 2014
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Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser Spacecraft on Track for November 2016 Launch
File photo: Dream Chaser completes ground tow tests.
Sierra Nevada/Ken Ulbrich

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) Dream Chaser spacecraft is “on track for its anticipated first launch in November 2016,” Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC Space Systems, told a press conference on August 5, 2014, at the AIAA SPACE 2014 Forum in San Diego.
Sirangelo explained “that the first launch, out of Florida’s space coast, would be one of two required for certification of the spacecraft, and will be unmanned.” The second launch, scheduled for November 2017, would be manned and piloted.” Sirangelo told the audience that “the tests are on track, and that the launch slots have been obtained.” He noted that SNC would fly “five test flights of Dream Chaser, with 3 of them being manned, in order to by fully comfortable with the craft’s ability to carry humans into space.”

Sirangelo also reaffirmed that the vehicle would use the “Atlas V rocket to launch,” confirming that SNC had selected the Atlas V, despite ongoing concerns about ability to obtain the rocket’s RD-180 engines from Russia, in light of current geopolitical concerns. Sirangelo explained that they selected the Atlas-V because “the Atlas V is a good thing, we don’t want to worry about the design and structure – it will be over 50 flights and close to 60, by the time we put humans on board.” Sirangelo also noted that SNC “owns the Atlas Vs that will be used for launch,” so that would be another reason not to worry about the possible disruption to the RD-180 supply. But, he admitted “the vehicle is agnostic, it can fly on any system, so we are not wedded to the Atlas V,” suggesting some flexibility should the anticipated supply shortage become a reality.

When asked if the Atlas V would need extensive retrofitting to carry the vehicle, Sirangelo replied: “It’s a whole lot less complicated than you would think,” specifying that that “the vehicle interface, which will link the craft to the Atlas V rocket, is being built now,” and adding that after the connective piece, the next needed item for launch is “an emergency detection system, required to let the crew know if there is a problem that requires the flight to be aborted.” Once both pieces are in place, Dream Chaser, will be ready to fly. He also expressed confidence in the craft’s unique lifting body, saying that there is a multitude of capsule based vehicles right now, including “the Automated Transfer and H-II Transfer Vehicles, Soyuz, Falcon, Cygnus, and Orion yet to come. In that complex world, we think that having a lifting body has a real practical purpose.”

Asked if there was a risk of Dream Chaser’s exclusion from the CCiCap program, Sirangelo was not worried, replying: “Now is a great time for rumours, but I think from what we see it will be multiple companies and vehicles.” He also noted: “Practically speaking it would be difficult to make that down-select now, we are the only one starting to fly real hardware, but we are a long way away from a real final decision on the program.”

Sirangelo closed the presser discussing Dream Chaser’s unique abort system, explaining: “It’s one of the things we really spent a lot of time on, and is one of strongest parts of the design.” Triggered at any time during the launch sequence, the system allows the vehicle to “fly off the stack, abort, and land at a facility a few miles away, or on any standard runway capable of handling a Boeing 737.” The system acts as ancillary motors on orbit, allowing greater maneuverability, and the ability to perform missions like satellite repair with greater precision. If the motors are not used their toxin-free fuel is simply vented out before the craft’s return to Earth.

With SNC’s investment in the craft, the craft’s unique systems, and the company’s commitment to a 2016 launch, it appears that Dream Chaser is on track to become a reality.

By Duane Hyland, special to SpaceRef

SpaceRef co-founder, entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, nature lover and deep thinker.