SNC Receives FAA Approval to Land Dream Chaser on Former Shuttle Runway

Sierra Nevada Company’s Dream Chaser engineering take a look at car at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Analysis Heart. Photograph Credit score: NASA / Ken Ulbrich

As Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) heads towards the maiden voyage of its cargo-carrying Dream Chaser vehicle to the International Space Station (ISS) next year, the Sparks, Nev.-headquartered group has acquired approval to re-enter and land on the repurposed Shuttle Touchdown Facility (SLF) on the Kennedy Area Heart (KSC) in Florida.

Video Credit score: AmericaSpace

Having supported no fewer than 78 landings by the shuttle fleet between February 1984 and July 2011, the swamp-fringed concrete runway additionally noticed service in Could 2017 and October 2019 in welcoming home the U.S. Space Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), along with demonstration flights of the Morpheus craft and extensive commercial use.

With yesterday’s announcement, SNC clears one other milestone prematurely of the primary flight of Dream Chaser to the Worldwide Area Station (ISS), atop the second United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan-Centaur heavylifter, anticipated someday in 2022. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Workplace of Business Area Transportation awarded the re-entry web site license to Cape Canaveral Spaceport Shuttle Touchdown Facility on Eight February on the request of Area Florida, the state’s aerospace financial improvement company.

Atlantis alights on Runway 15 on the Shuttle Touchdown Facility (SLF) on the Kennedy Area Heart (KSC) in Florida at 5:57 a.m. EDT on 21 July 2011, wrapping up a outstanding 33-mission profession. Photograph Credit score: NASA

This makes it the primary commercially-licensed re-entry location. When Dream Chaser alights on the 15,000-foot-long (4,600-meter) SLF in some unspecified time in the future subsequent yr, it can turn out to be the very first spacecraft to return from the area station to a runway touchdown since shuttle Atlantis’ last landfall on the Space Coast way back in July 2011.

“Dream Chaser is the one business, lifting-body area car able to a runway touchdown, wherever on the planet,” mentioned SNC CEO Fatih Ozmen. “That’s how astronauts choose to journey to and from area and it’s no surprise. The chance for our spaceplane to land on this historic runway, the place so many shuttle missions did earlier than, underscores each the sensible benefits of Dream Chaser and its time-honored place in NASA’s area exploration heritage.”

Artist’s rendering of Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser sharing the runway with shuttle Atlantis. Picture Credit score: SNC

Mr. Ozmen’s phrases had been echoed by three-time shuttle astronaut Janet Kavandi, who currently serves as executive vice president of the SNC Space Systems business area after a tenure as director of NASA’s Glenn Analysis Heart (GRC) in Cleveland, Ohio, between March 2016 and September 2019.

“A runway touchdown functionality gives vital benefits over different return choices,” mentioned Dr. Kavandi, who flew shuttles Discovery in June 1998, Endeavour in February 2000 and Atlantis in July 2001 and returned safely to a clean SLF touchdown on the finish of all three missions.

Dream Chaser will fly its six contracted missions for NASA atop Vulcan-Centaur boosters. Photograph Credit score: SNC

“I perceive how a spaceplane gives a safer and extra benign entry expertise for people, in addition to delicate payloads. Astronauts can instantly depart the car and researchers have entry to their experiments virtually instantly after touchdown.”

In its post-shuttle life, the SLF is now identified by Area Florida because the Launch and Touchdown Facility and a part of the re-entry web site license included a fancy environmental evaluation in collaboration with NASA, the FAA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Providers, the Nationwide Park Service and the area people.

Dream Chaser, pictured right here throughout an experimental free-flight take a look at, will fly atop a Vulcan-Centaur with 4 GEM-63XL strap-on boosters. Photograph Credit score: NASA

Trying not dissimilar to a scaled-down model of the shuttle, Dream Chaser has the power to the touch down at any licensed touchdown web site with an appropriate 10,000-foot-long (3,000-meter) runway able to dealing with a typical business jet. Its low-G re-entry traits, along with a runway touchdown, are anticipated to afford better safety for delicate ISS analysis payloads and speedy entry by scientists to their outcomes after landing.

Last year, SNC named its first Dream Chaser car as “Tenacity”; a particulatly apt moniker which the group hoped would signify “a beacon of hope that American ingenuity and tenacity will carry brighter days forward”.

Sierra Nevada Corp. Dream Chaser docks on the Worldwide Area Station. Picture Credit score: SNC

Dream Chaser’s journey from the drawing-board to precise {hardware} has been a protracted, robust and convoluted one. In improvement for nearly 20 years—having been publicly announced way back in September 2004—it was initially hoped that the spaceplane would play a job within the Business Crew Program.

In August 2012, SNC acquired $212.5 million in Business Crew built-in Functionality (CCiCap) funds, with hopes that it’d sometime launch atop a ULA Atlas V rocket and ship crews of as much as seven astronauts to the ISS. However in September 2014 it misplaced out to Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, a decision against which SNC mounted an ultimately unsuccessful challenge.

Video Credit score: SNC

Nonetheless, in March 2015 the group reinvented its ship because the Dream Chaser Cargo System to restock the ISS in an uncrewed capability and in January 2016 was selected alongside SpaceX and Orbital ATK (now a part of Northrop Grumman Corp.) as winners of the second-round Business Resupply Providers (CRS2) contract. Beneath the phrases of its contractual obligation to NASA, SNC would fly not less than six Dream Chaser missions to the area station within the 2019-2024 timeframe.

Though bodily an identical to its earlier crew-carrying variant, as a part of the CRS2 requirement the spaceplane would function an progressive and versatile folding-wing construction, which permits it to suit throughout the Payload Fairing (PLF) of any sufficiently succesful launch autos, together with ULAs Atlas V and Europe’s Ariane 5. It was additionally revealed that Dream Chaser would carry a 16-foot-long (4.8-meter) cargo container, known as “Shooting Star”, which will likely be disposed of within the higher environment on the finish of every mission.

Vulcan Centaur, United Launch Alliance’s next-generation American rocket, lifts off on this artist’s rendering. Picture Credit score: ULA

In July 2017, SNC selected ULA to launch its first two Dream Chaser missions in 2020 and 2021, initially atop the Atlas V, although in August 2019 it was reported that the spaceplane would make the most of the in-development Vulcan-Centaur as a substitute. The latter is focused to make its maiden voyage from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla., later this yr, with an expectation that the inaugural Dream Chaser will journey the heavylift booster’s second voyage during 2022.

As for the precise Dream Chaser itself, the first spacecraft construction—measuring 30 ft (9.1 meters) lengthy, with a wingspan of 15 ft (4.6 meters) and weighing some 2,200 kilos (1,000 kg)—was delivered by subcontractor Lockheed Martin from its Fort Value, Texas, plant to SNC’s integration facility in Louisville, Colo., in October 2019.

Video Credit score: NASA

Within the months thereafter, it acquired a number of different main elements. Its wings and Wing Deployment System (WDS) arrived last April, adopted by its Taking pictures Star cargo container last May, forward of a key integration section which included set up of the SNC-built Passive Frequent Berthing Mechanism (PCBM) to allow Dream Chaser to berth on the area station’s Unity or Concord nodes.

Last June, the primary of round 2,000 heat-resistant tiles—a vital component of the spaceplane’s Thermal Safety System (TPS)—had been delivered and technicians started bonding them onto Dream Chaser’s airframe. Extra just lately, final November integration and testing of the wings on the SNC production floor in Louisville, Colo., got underway, with an expectation that they are going to be put in onto Tenacity’s airframe this coming summer season.

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