Ever since the NASA space shuttle fleet has been retired, there hasn’t been any real replacement. Now, the private Sierra Nevada Corp., based in Colorado, has plans to change the status quo.
In the next few weeks, the company plans to perform a key drop-test for its Dream Chaser space-plane. The Dream Chaser, will be released by a carrier helicopter at an altitude of 12,000 feet (3,657 meters), and hopefully glide back and land autonomously at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in California.
The unmanned 30-second drop test begins a series of trials prior to low-Earth orbit trips. If the company is successful, they have a potentially lucrative contract with many governments to carry both crew and cargo to the International Space Station. The space-plane could also potentially carry satellites into low earth orbit where they can be boosted to higher orbits.
The Dream Chaser has room for seven and looks like a miniature space shuttle. The craft is 29.5 feet (9 m) long and has a wingspan of 22.9 feet (7 m). For comparison, NASA’s space shuttle was 122 feet (37 m) long, with a wingspan of 78 feet (24 m).
SNC isn’t the only company looking to cash in on the commercial space race. SpaceX and Boeing both have space-planes that they are working on.
The Dragon from SpaceX has already docked with the ISS as I told you about here.
The Boeing CST-100 (Crew Space Transportation) spacecraft is another capsule based project is still in development.
The Dream Chaser space-plane is the only non-capsule design currently being developed.
NASA hopes at least one of these vehicles is ready to fly astronauts to and from the space station by 2017.
– Ex astris, scientia –
I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney. As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +