Vehicles: Dream Chaser
If the capsule-based space vehicles of SpaceX and Boeing seem just a little too retro, then Sierra Nevada Space’s Dream Chaser is an altogether more futuristic-looking space plane. SNC are one of the four lucky private spaceflight companies who won funding in the second round of NASA’s Commercial Crew Delivery programme, which will give them a head start to reach orbit.
Crew boarding a Dream Chaser atop a Delta 5 rocket
The ‘lifting body’ design recalls early Space Shuttle proposals as well as more recent designs like the HL-20 studied by NASA as an alternative orbital crew delivery vehicle to complement the Space Shuttle. SNC has been able to draw on years of research and wind-tunnel testing to move ahead quickly.
Dream Chaser can carry up to seven astronauts, and the lifting body shape also enables it to return from space at less than 2g with far less intense heating than a capsule or full-winged Space Shuttle design and glide to destinations significantly away from its re-entry trajectory.
Dream Chaser’s engines are also derived from another successful project: it uses the hybrid rockets developed by SpaceDev for SpaceShipOne and Virgin Galactic’s forthcoming SpaceShipTwo. While DreamChaser will launch atop a traditional expendable launch vehicle - there’s currently an agreement with United Launch Alliance to man-rate the Atlas 5 rocket - the hybrid rockets will double up as both launch abort system and orbital manoeuvring engines.
With an emphasis on meeting its NASA deadlines, SNC doesn’t have any dedicated space tourism customers or a pricetag, but even with a costly expendable launcher it will be a strong candidate for destinations like Bigelow Aerospace’s inflatable modules.
A Dream Chaser glides to a conventional runway landing
All images Sierra Nevada Corporation Space Systems