Sierra Space showed the assembly of the Dream Chaser vehicle

Sierra Space has published several images demonstrating the assembly process of the first flight copy of the Dream Chaser spaceplane called Tenacity. Its debut flight is scheduled for 2023.

Assembly of the first flight copy of the Dream Chaser spaceplane. Source: Sierra Space

Dream Chaser Project History

The Dream Chaser spaceplane was originally developed as a vehicle for delivering crews to the ISS. However, in 2014, it lost the final stage of selection under the Commercial Crew Development program to the spacecraft CST-100 Starliner and Crew Dragon.

Prototype of the Dream Chaser spaceplane. Source: Sierra Nevada Corporation

After this, the designers decided to rework the concept of the device, turning it into an unmanned supply spacecraft. It turned out to be a good solution. In 2016, the Dream Chaser project became one of the winners of the second phase of the Commercial Resupply Services 2 program. It was guaranteed at least 6 cargo missions to the ISS.

Structure of the Dream Chaser spaceplane

The Dream Chaser body is made of composite materials with ceramic thermal protection. The spacecraft will be launched into orbit using the new Vulcan carrier. The spaceplane has folding wings, due to which it can be installed not on the side of the carrier rocket, but on top of the last stage (it will be covered with a fairing to improve aerodynamics).

Dream Chaser spaceplane in near Earth orbit (concept). Source: Sierra Nevada Corporation

Dream Chaser will be able to deliver five tons of supplies to the ISS in a pressurized compartment and up to 500 kg more in an unpressurized one. When returning to Earth, it will land on the runway like an airplane, carrying up to 1850 kg of returned cargo on board. Another 3,400 kg can be placed in a compartment that will separate before the spaceplane enters the atmosphere, and it will burn up in it.

Assembling the Dream Chaser spaceplane

The assembly of the first flight copy of the Dream Chaser began in 2019. Initially, it was planned that it would make its debut flight at the end of 2020 — however, this was prevented by various technical factors and the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, which significantly slowed down the assembly and testing process of the device.

Assembly of the first flight copy of the Dream Chaser spaceplane. Source: Sierra Space

According to Sierra Space representatives, the project recently passed an important stage — engineers installed its wings on the Dream Chaser body. After the assembly and structural tests are completed, the spacecraft will be transported to the NASA test center in Ohio. This event is scheduled for August – September 2022. There, the device will undergo a series of thermal tests designed to certify its readiness for space flight. Upon their completion, the Dream Chaser will be transported to Cape Canaveral and prepared for installation on the Vulcan rocket. The first spaceplane mission is scheduled for early 2023.

Assembly of the first flight copy of the Dream Chaser spaceplane. Source: Sierra Space

It should be noted that Sierra Space does not lose hope to build a manned version of the spacecraft. Given the uncertain fate of the ISS, the company is considering using it in missions to deliver people to private orbital stations. It is also known that Sierra Space is discussing the possibility of creating a version of the spacecraft designed for the US Space Forces, which would replace the X-37B space drone.

Earlier, we also talked about Sierra Space’s plans to organize Dream Chaser landings at Japanese airfields.

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