NASA partner Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) of Louisville, Colo., successfully completed a captive-carry test of the Dream Chaser spacecraft Thursday, Aug. 22, at the space agency's Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif.
During the two-hour test, an Erickson Air-Crane helicopter picked up a test version of the Dream Chaser flight vehicle and flew it a distance of three miles over a dry lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base at a maximum altitude of approximately 12,400 feet. The spacecraft followed the projected path it will fly during future approach and landing tests at Dryden. Dream Chaser's flight computer, along with its guidance, navigation and control systems were tested. The landing gear and nose skid also were deployed during flight.
"Today is the first time we have flown a fully functional Dream Chaser flight vehicle, and we are very pleased with the results," said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president and head of SNC's Space Systems. "Our team represents the very best in collaboration between industry and government. We have worked closely with NASA, Dryden and the Air Force to reach this important milestone in our flight test program. We look forward to seeing Dream Chaser land on the same runway as the space shuttle orbiters once did as we move forward in the development of the next-generation crew transportation vehicle."
This was the second captive-carry test of the Dream Chaser flight vehicle and its first captive-carry at Dryden. Data obtained from the test will provide SNC valuable information about the Dream Chaser hardware and ground operations. The test paves the way for upcoming free-flight tests at Dryden this fall as part of the company's agreements with NASA.
SNC is working with NASA to develop Dream Chaser, planned to launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, through the agency's Commercial Crew Development Round 2 (CCDev2) and Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiatives. New commercial spaceflight capabilities being developed by NASA partners through these initiatives eventually could provide launch services to transport NASA astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil.
"It's great to see real American-made hardware taking flight right here in the U.S.," said Ed Mango, NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP) manager. "This is just the start of an exciting flight test campaign for SNC's Dream Chaser at Dryden."
Work leading up to the captive-carry test included an evaluation of the performance of Dream Chaser's braking and landing systems, during ground tow tests, at increasing speeds. SNC engineers also verified the spacecraft's computer and software systems, instrumentation and steering performance. The company held a thorough flight test readiness review with engineers, technical experts and representatives from NASA and the U.S. Air Force.
SNC's CCDev2 Space Act Agreement with NASA is set to culminate with an upcoming approach-and-landing free-flight test at Dryden. SNC also is on track to complete all 12 of its CCiCap milestones by the summer of 2014. All of NASA's industry partners, including SNC, continue to meet their established milestones in developing commercial crew transportation capabilities.