Dream Chaser: Hypersonic spaceplane will feature a building-sized inflatable space habitat
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' space company, Blue Origin, has been hard at work alongside Colorado-based startup Sierra Space on the Orbital Reef project.
The two companies behind the project recently blasted a module prototype for the station to pieces as part of an ongoing test campaign.
Orbital Reef, one of the planned, private successors to the International Space Station (ISS), will contain a space hotel, a restaurant, and research facilities for companies and scientists.
Once it is finally in orbit, around the year 2027, people will travel to and from the so-called "space business park" using a supersonic spaceplane called Dream Chaser.
Meet Dream Chaser
Sierra Space is developing Dream Chaser as part of its plans to become the largest real estate developer in space alongside Blue Origin. In an interview with Robb Report, Sierra Space CEO Tom Vice claimed we are on the verge of "the Orbital Age", which could be compared to the Industrial Revolution or the advent of the Information Age.
“We first have to get good at building commercial economies in low earth orbit,” Vice said. “Then we’ll move to the lunar surface, 250,000 miles away, before we can figure out how to live on a planet that’s 35 million miles away.”
We build not for the few but for the many.— Sierra Space (@SierraSpaceCo) December 31, 2022
We are dreamers, believers, and doers.
We dream big, bold dreams.
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Part of Sierra Space's contribution to that cause comes in the form of Dream Chaser, which is expected to carry out its first manned mission at some point in 2026. The supersonic spaceplane will be reusable roughly 15 times and it will be able to carry roughly 12,000 lbs (5,440 kg) of cargo or 12 passengers.
Aside from eventually carrying passengers to Orbital Reef, Dream Chaser will also fly cargo and crew to the ISS as part of a $3 billion contract with NASA. The contract is part of an initiative by NASA to reduce its reliance on SpaceX as the only US firm currently capable of transporting astronauts to the ISS.
Dream Chaser will feature a massive inflatable space habitat
Dream Chaser will be four times shorter in length than NASA's space shuttle, measuring 30 feet in total. However, it includes a feature called LIFE (Large Integrated Flexible Environment) that allows it to deploy a large space habitat once in space. The inflatable habitat expands to a size of 27 feet in diameter, which is the equivalent of a three-story building. Its soft material is able to deflect small meteors and other space debris.
The spaceplane's relatively small stature also allows one key advantage. It can land horizontally on any runway that is capable of accommodating a Boeing 747 or Airbus A380.
Though the long-term goal is for Dream Chaser to land on commercial runways at international airports, Sierra Space is also building a network of spaceports for Dream Chaser — including New Mexico’s Spaceport America and facilities in Cornwall, England, and Oita, Japan. Once operational, Dream Chaser will be able to reach Orbital Reef's low-orbit location within about three days of travel time.
Satellites are important for both scientific and commercial purposes but the increased number of them blocks the view.