Dream Chaser: Space Shuttle-like spaceplane could soon fly to orbit after acing key test

This is a "key moment in a long journey for Dream Chaser," which could fly to orbit for the first time this year.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of Dream Chaser.
An artist's impression of Dream Chaser.

Sierra Space / Twitter 

Sierra Space successfully carried out a key test on its Dream Chaser spaceplane, which is designed to lift passengers to the International Space Station (ISS) and Orbital Reef, the private orbital station it's developing alongside Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin.

Colorado-based Sierra Space announced in a press statement that it has successfully powered up its spaceplane for the first time. The new milestone means Dream Chaser isn't too far away from performing its first orbital flight test, currently scheduled for this year.

A new Space Shuttle-like spaceplane could soon take flight

Dream Chaser is a reusable, fully autonomous spaceplane that measures roughly one-quarter the size of NASA's Space Shuttle and features a building-sized inflatable habitat.

According to Sierra Space, it will be able to carry a cargo payload of up to 12,000 pounds (5,443 kilograms) to orbit. Though it will be able to land on conventional runaways, it will fly to low Earth orbit aboard United Launch Alliance's (ULA's) Vulcan Centaur.

During the recent power-up test, engineers simulated the power that will be generated by Dream Chaser's solar arrays during orbital flight.

"This is a milestone that points to the future and is a key moment in a long journey for Dream Chaser," Tom Vice, CEO of Sierra Space, explained in the company’s statement. "With this significant achievement, our Dream Chaser spaceplane is poised to redefine commercial space travel, opening up new possibilities for scientific research, technological advancements, and economic opportunities in space."

Sierra Space aims to launch Dream Chaser for the first time from Kennedy Space Center, Florida near the end of 2023. That mission will act as a flight test as well as a supply mission to the ISS for NASA. According to a SpaceNews report, the company is preparing to send the first Dream Chaser spaceplane, called Tenacity, to NASA's Neil Armstrong Test Facility in Ohio for testing ahead of its first launch.

Dream Chaser test flight might be delayed due to slow Vulcan Centaur progress

Dream Chaser is due to take flight for the first time aboard Vulcan Centaur's second mission. The large rocket's first mission, which is due to launch two of Amazon's Starlink-rival service Project Kuiper satellites, has faced numerous delays. Most recently, ULA announced it had stood down from a key flight readiness test on May 25 due to an issue with the rocket's booster engine ignition system.

In the future, Sierra Space has stated that Dream Chaser will be able to reach the Orbital Reef space station's low Earth orbit location within roughly three days of travel time.

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