Here’s the Sierra Space plane: it’s ready to fly in 2024


Sierra Space, a leading commercial space company, has delivered the first Dream Chaser space plane, named Tenacity, to NASA’s Neil Armstrong Test Facility in Sandusky, Ohio. The Dream Chaser, which will fly the world’s only commercial space plane after its launch, has entered the final test phase before its first flight in 2024. The test campaign will confirm the spacecraft’s resistance to challenges (thanks to the world’s most powerful spacecraft shake table) and demanding conditions space, as part of a multi-mission contract between NASA and Sierra Space.

Dream Chaser thus joins the same company’s transport module called Shooting Star, which arrived at NASA’s test facility in November 2023 and will be attached to the space shuttle. Tom Vice, CEO of Sierra Space, explains: “We are launching the next industrial revolution with a business and technology platform that provides our customers with a complete turnkey solution to bring what they want to space.”

Reusable 15 times. As a spacecraft, the Dream Chaser is designed to be reused up to 15 times, while the spacecraft’s cargo module, the Shooting Star, is designed to support the delivery and subsequent disposal of waste from the space station as it will be burned up in the atmosphere. The Dream Chaser system will launch with its wings folded inside a five-meter fairing aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Space Station in Florida. Fairing panels will protect the spacecraft during ascent, which will be ejected once in orbit. Solar panels mounted on the Dream Chaser’s cargo module and wings will deploy during its autonomous approach to the space station. Dream Chaser is designed to be ready to launch in as little as 24 hours.

First mission. During its first flight, Sierra Space will conduct in-orbit demonstrations to validate the Dream Chaser for future missions. The flight will be monitored by teams from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, and the Dream Chaser Mission Control Center in Louisville, Colorado. These tests will be conducted far from the space station, before the spacecraft enters the approach ellipsoid, an invisible boundary 4 x 2 x 2 kilometers, near the ISS. Checks include demonstration of attitude control, translational maneuvers and mission abort capabilities in case of failure.

Flight Tests The “near field” demonstrations that must take place near the space station include the activation and use of LIDAR (Light Detection and Range) sensors, responding to commands sent by the space station, and departure from the space station. station on command and a series of approach tests, first at 330 meters, then at 250 meters and finally at 30 meters from the station. After successfully completing the demos, the Dream Chaser will move towards the space station. It then stops about 11.5 meters from the ISS, where a station crew member uses the Canadarm2 robotic arm to grab the shuttle and dock it with the Unity or Harmony module.

First deliveries. During its first flight to the International Space Station, Dream Chaser will deliver more than 3,500 kilograms of cargo. For routine missions, Dream Chaser was designed to remain docked to the station for up to 75 days and carry up to 5,200 kilograms of cargo, which can be loaded onto the spacecraft up to 24 hours before launch. Dream Chaser can bring over 1,500 kilograms of cargo (experimental samples) back to Earth, with approximately 4,000 kilograms of debris to be disposed of during reentry using its cargo module.

Return to Earth. During its first flight, Dream Chaser will remain on the ISS for approximately 45 days before being undocked using Canadarm2. The spacecraft will land 11-15 hours after departure from the ISS and may do so every day, weather conditions permitting. A combination of 26 thrusters in the Dream Chaser control system fire to exit the spacecraft. Dream Chaser will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and glide onto a space shuttle-style runway at the Kennedy Space Center’s Launch and Landing Facility, becoming the first spacecraft to land on the orbit since the last flight of a single shuttle in 2011. .


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