June 5, 2012 Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Space Systems' Dream Chaser design passed one of its most complex tests to date with a successful captive-carry test conducted near the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in Jefferson County, Colo., on May 29.
Just like the space shuttle before it, SNC's Dream Chaser will go through extensive testing to prove its wings will work. The company built a full-scale flight vehicle of the Dream Chaser spacecraft to carry out the evaluations.
Backdropped by skyscraping summits, an Erickson Air-Crane helicopter lifted the full-scale orbital crew vehicle to verify proper aerodynamic flight performance. Future plans call for the flight vehicle to be released to evaluate the design's handling during the landing phase of a mission.
The captive-carry test marks the completion of another milestone for the Dream Chaser Space System as part of the Commercial Crew Development Round 2 (CCDev2) agreement with NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP).
"This is a very positive success for the Dream Chaser team and their innovative approach. I applaud and encourage the designers and engineers to continue their efforts in meeting the objectives of the rest of their CCDev2 milestones," said Ed Mango, CCP program manager.
SNC is one of seven companies working to develop commercial crew transportation capabilities to ferry U.S. astronauts to and from low Earth orbit and the International Space Station. The Dream Chaser is designed to carry as many as seven astronauts to space, and is the only spacecraft under CCDev2 that incorporates wings and is designed to land on a conventional runway.
"The successful captive-carry flight test of the Dream Chaser full-scale flight vehicle marks the beginning of SNC's flight test program; a program that could culminate in crewed missions to the International Space Station for NASA," said Steve Lindsey, former NASA astronaut and head of Dream Chaser's flight operations for SNC.
Before the company took to the Rocky Mountain skies, it conducted an interface test to demonstrate the release mechanism between the Dream Chaser prototype and the heavy-lift helicopter. It also conducted a ground-based landing gear drop test and a thorough flight test readiness review with engineers, technical experts and representatives from SNC and NASA.
Another recent milestone included an evaluation of the separation system compatibility of Dream Chaser with its initial launch vehicle, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, which would be used to release the spacecraft from the rocket's second stage after it has placed the spacecraft into low Earth orbit.
Data from the captive-carry test will provide the company an early opportunity to evaluate and prove hardware, facilities and ground operations in preparation for approach and landing tests scheduled for later this year.
All of NASA's CCDev2 partners, including SNC, continue to meet their established milestones in developing commercial crew transportation capabilities.
For more information about NASA's Commercial Crew Program, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/commercialcrew
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