New step towards the dream: Mini-shuttle passed a critical test

Sierra Space has announced the successful completion of the Dream Chaser spaceplane test program. This is an important step towards its first flight, which is scheduled for autumn 2024. 

Dream Chaser spacecraft in the test chamber. Source: Sierra Space

The Dream Chaser is designed to supply the ISS and return cargo from orbit to Earth. Its body is made of composite materials with ceramic thermal protection. The spaceplane will be launched into orbit using a rocket, and upon return it lands on Earth like an airplane.

In total, Dream Chaser can deliver five tons of supplies to the ISS in an hermetic compartment and up to 500 kg more in an unpressurized compartment. An additional 4,500 kg can be placed in the Shooting Star module. Upon returning to Earth, the spacecraft is capable of returning 1,850 kg of cargo. As for the Shooting Star module, it separates from the spaceplane before entering the atmosphere and burns up in it. This makes it possible to use it to dispose of some of the debris from the ISS.

Dream Chaser spacecraft in the test chamber. Source: Sierra Space

The assembly of the first copy of the Dream Chaser was completed in November 2023. After that, the spacecraft was delivered to the Neil Armstrong Test Center, where it underwent a series of tests. Initially, the bundle of Dream Chaser and Shooting Star underwent an intensive five-week test on a vibration stand. Its goal was to make sure that the spacecraft would withstand the vibrations that would occur during its launch. The engineers then conducted a test involving the separation system between Dream Chaser and Shooting Star, after which the bundle was placed in a vacuum chamber. According to Sierra Space, the Dream Chaser successfully completed all the tests.

In the near future, the Dream Chaser will be delivered to the Kennedy Space Center, after which it will begin to be prepared for launch scheduled for autumn 2024. A new Vulcan rocket will be used for it. 

Curiously, if for some reason the Dream Chaser is not ready to fly on time, the rocket can still be launched with a weight and size layout as a payload. This is necessary for the Pentagon to certify Vulcan in order to use it to launch cargo for national security needs. Under the conditions of the cessation of operation of the Delta family of rockets and the imminent retirement of Atlas V, the US military wants to have an alternative to SpaceX carriers, which is close to monopolizing the launch market.

According to

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