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NASA Unveils Its First Spaceplane Since The Shuttle

This is the Dream Chaser.

25/08/2017 13:39

Since the retirement of the Space Shuttle, NASA has never stopped looking for a way to safely bring back the reusable space plane.

Well that search is now over, because this could well be the space shuttle of the future.

NASA

It’s called the Dream Chaser and it’s being developed by private space organisation Sierra Nevada Corporation.

While it’s just a quarter of the size of the original Space Shuttle the Dream Chaser can still carry the same number of passengers and in addition can be docked at the International Space Station for far longer.

NASA

While some may be disappointed that the Dream Chaser isn’t developed internally by NASA it’s fair to say that since it started openly looking for contractors the number of new space vehicles has increased exponentially.

From Blue Origin’s Shepard rocket to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 heavy-lifting rocket and Dragon spacecraft, the only current rocket that NASA is working on is its spiritual successor to the Saturn V, the SLS.

The Dream Chaser will come in two variants allowing either manned or unmanned flight making it a more than capable cargo vessel as well.

SNC

To help with the development of Dream Chaser, NASA has offered Sierra Nevada full use of its testing facilities including its huge Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel.

Sierra Nevada claims that the Dream Chaser stands apart from the competition by being reusable up to 15 times, more than any other spacecraft either previously or currently in service.

It also claims to have full flexibility in its mission capabilities including remote sensing, satellite servicing, and even “active debris removal,” otherwise known as space-trash cleanup.

SNC

Having already gone through a preliminary round of testing the Dream Chaser will undergo a second series of flight tests at NASA’s Armstrong Research Centre.

What makes the potential for Dream Chaser so significant is that it combines the low-intensity flight capabilities of the Space Shuttle with a smaller more compact package that can be launched using conventional rockets thanks to its folding wing design.

At present NASA has agreed to six unmanned cargo missions for the Dream Chaser space plane. It had initially rejected the Dream Chaser as a crewed spacecraft, instead choosing both SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft and Lockheed Martin’s Orion. 

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