SNC’s Dream Chaser Still Chasing the Dream

Even though Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) will not be sending astronauts to the International Space Station aboard its Dream Chaser spaceplane any time soon, SNC announced that it is continuing the vehicle’s development with the help of the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

An engineer tests airflow on a model Dream Chaser. Credit: NASA, David Bowman

An engineer tests airflow on a model Dream Chaser. Credit: NASA, David Bowman

After losing NASA’s Commercial Crew contract to SpaceX and Boeing, SNC is surely glad to have DLR’s support. The aerospace company’s announcement came Apr. 16 from the 31st Annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo., and marks the continuation of a series of contracts between the American company and its European partner. As SNC says:

The cooperation, which was entered into today, builds upon the successful one-year Dream Chaser technical agreement signed in 2013.  The new agreement, which extends through 2017, will continue the valuable developmental work completed while identifying new and advanced technologies to pursue in order to further advance the crewed and uncrewed Dream Chaser spacecraft as a flexible low-Earth orbit (LEO) space transportation system for a variety of missions and customers.

SNC’s Dream Chaser is similar in design to the European Space Agency’s IXV and the U.S. Air Force’s secretive X-37B. The vehicle launches from the top a rocket into space. Once in orbit, the Dream Chaser can return to earth and glide to a runway landing.

While the original design was focused on bringing astronauts to space, SNC is describing their Dream Chaser now as a “multi-mission-capable space utility vehicle” in that it may be modified to carry crew or cargo. In March SNC proposed a cargo-carrying variant of the Dream Chaser to bring supplies to and from the International Space Station.

DLR’s previous research on the vehicle, SpaceNews notes, looked into its potential as a satellite launch platform. Professor Jan Woerner of DLR said on the Thursday that, “The versatility of the Dream Chaser – crewed or uncrewed – allows for multiple applications such as transportation of cargo and humans as well as direct use for activities such as removing space debris.“

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