Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser Getting Closer to First Flight

Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser Getting Closer to First Flight

Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser spaceplane is getting closer to its first launch. Looking like a small space shuttle, Dream Chaser lost out to SpaceX and Boeing for NASA’s commercial crew program, but won a spot in the second round of commercial cargo missions to deliver supplies to the International Space Station. Two members of the next ISS crew are in training to learn how the spacecraft operates so they’re ready when it arrives.

Dream Chaser is a lifting body design based on work NASA did decades ago for a spaceplane called HL-20 that was to deliver passengers and cargo to an Earth-orbiting space station.

Dream Chaser lands at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, CA on November 11, 2017 after a free- flight test flight. Credit: NASA

Sierra Space adopted the design to service the International Space Station and although it lost out on a bid to use it to ferry crews back and forth, it won a NASA contract to deliver cargo. Dream Chaser’s first flight on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is expected while Crew-7 is aboard and two of those crew members, NASA’s Jasmin Moghbeli and JAXA’s Satoshi Furukawa, recently trained on it.

JAXA and NASA formally announced Furukawa’s assignment to Crew-7 today. Furukawa, Moghbeli, ESA’s Andreas Mogensen and a Russian cosmonaut whose assignment has not been officially announced yet, are expected to launch in mid-August for a 6-month stay on the ISS.

The exact launch date for Dream Chaser within that window was not announced, but whenever it comes, it’ll have been a long time coming. In fact, Sierra Space named it Tenacity.

Crew-7 astronauts Satoshi Furukawa (JAXA) and Jasmin Moghbeli (NASA) training in Dream Chaser, March 2023. Credit: Sierra Space

After President George W. Bush’s 2004 decision decision to terminate NASA’s space shuttle program once construction of the ISS was complete, NASA initiated two Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) to replace the shuttle’s capabilities to resupply the space station with cargo and crews.

The commercial cargo program began in 2006, with SpaceX and Orbital Sciences (later Orbital ATK, now part of Northrop Grumman) launching their first flights of Cargo Dragon and Cygnus in 2012 and 2013 respectively under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

In 2010, President Obama announced he would use a similar PPP approach to develop crew transportation systems for ISS. A competition began with a number of companies that whittled down to three finalists in 2014: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, Boeing’s Starliner, and Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC’s) Dream Chaser. NASA was looking for only two companies and Dream Chaser lost. SNC protested the decision, but to no avail.

The next year NASA opened a second commercial cargo procurement, CRS2, and SNC entered an uncrewed version of Dream Chaser in that competition. That time it won, becoming a third commercial cargo provider for at least six missions to ISS. Dream Chaser’s Shooting Star service module can deliver 5,500 kilograms of pressurized and unpressurized cargo to the ISS.

Sierra Space is an independent commercial space company created by SNC in 2021 and has many aspirations for Dream Chaser not only as an uncrewed cargo spacecraft, but for crews as originally planned. Sierra Space and Blue Origin are leading a team including Boeing, Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering and Arizona State University in developing the Orbital Reef commercial space station that would use Dream Chaser for crew and cargo transportation. Orbital Reef would also use Sierra Space’s LIFE habitat.

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