Could Dream Chaser Service Hubble Space Telescope?

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s space vehicle suspends in a hangar at NASA’s Armstrong to undergo testing. (Credit: NASA/Ken Ulbrich)

The Wall Street Journal reports that Sierra Nevada Corporation has put forth a proposal to send a crewed Dream Chaser to service the aging Hubble Space Telescope.

The discussions are still preliminary, no specific plans have been drafted and senior White House aides or administration advisers currently overseeing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration could veto the concept. Decisions about any potentially major NASA initiative await the appointment of a new agency head, according to industry and government officials.

But deliberations about sending a spacecraft to link up with NASA’s pioneering orbiting telescope—comparable to five earlier missions by the now-retired space shuttle fleet stretching back to 1993—illustrate the Trump team’s guiding principles when it comes to space investments. Industry and transition officials agree the focus is on seeking dramatic but relatively inexpensive space projects that can be readily understood by average Americans.

The Hubble repair proposal also has garnered administration officials’ attention because it appears to meet still other important White House criteria, according to these people. The goal is to put a lid on federal expenditures for space by fostering public-private partnerships, while devising projects that can be completed within the president’s current four-year term….

Sierra Nevada is betting that the Trump administration’s enhanced interest in commercial space projects—including transition memos extolling the potential benefits of manned missions orbiting the moon—could revive Hubble’s rejuvenation bid. The company twice presented its proposal to transition officials, according to one person familiar with the details.

Sierra Nevada is currently developing a cargo variant of Dream Chaser to resupply the International Space Station. That vehicle is not scheduled to begin deliveries to the space station until 2019.

It’s not clear how much work, funding or additional testing would be required to upgrade the cargo ship for crew use. Nor is it clear whether a mission to Hubble could be completed in time for Trump’s re-election campaign in 2020.

The company did make substantial progress toward a crew vehicle during NASA’s Commercial Crew Program before Dream Chaser was dropped from the program in 2014.

The two selected commercial crew companies, Boeing and SpaceX, have run into significant technical problems during the final phase of commercial crew development and testing. Both companies are running significantly behind schedule.

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  • Eric Thiel

    I always thought Dream Chaser would be ideal for a Hubble service mission. The HST might be old be it feels like it would be a waste to let it deorbit. I want to see it run for many more decades to come, and hopefully can be brought back to Earth to be placed in a museum when it’s time has come.

  • JamesG

    Its going to be a VERY long time before the Hubble could be brought back to Earth. There isn’t anything even on the drawing board that could do it, besides maybe a variant of SpaceX’s BFR/MCT

    Dream Chaser is probably the worst possible candidate for a HST service mission. Besides the fact that it (and CST-100) can’t carry any parts that won’t fit thru a CDA, it isn’t fully developed and won’t ever be certified by NASA. Dragon at least can carry parts and has already been paid for. Best bet would be LockMart’s Jupiter, it could carry the parts up and then telerobotically grab and work on it a lot cheaper than a manned thing.

    This is either SNC grasping at straws or trying to get some PR hoping for investor funding. But who knows? Maybe they’ve made a whole lot of campaign contributions last year….

  • Eric Thiel

    I understand that the Dream Chaser might not be able to carry much cargo; but if you want to capture the attention of the American people, the Dream Chaser is the most attractive when it comes to private spacecraft. I can understand why they would want to use it on an icon shuttle payload.

  • MzUnGu

    If you want to pull a media “Trump” to capture the attention of the American people’s attention, try a Mars Rover.

    I bet ya, no one here even knows the name of any astronauts now in orbit without googling it.

  • JamesG

    “Attractive” is not an adjective I would associate with Dream Chaser. 🙂

  • JamesG

    Which is as it should be. Would be better if you couldn’t usually count them all on one hand.

    2020 is coming though. I wonder if we could get a fleet discount if we bought a dozen or so of them for the Moon?

  • Dream Chaser is a cool little ship and I want the lifting body idea to get it’s chance to shine.

  • windbourne

    I would rather send a BA330 or sundancer, with a tug.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I think a more believable vehicle to meet the likely time frame for a Hubble servicing mission would be to use a Dragon with a orbital module, and make use of the cargo bay in the back of the service module to carry the replacement modules. Use F9 H for unlimited cargo. Don’t be surprised if the first crewed flight of Dream Chaser is over half a decade away. I find it unlikely SNC will go faster than SX or Boeing.

  • Arthur Hamilton

    Until SNC releases the video of the first glide test crash, NASA shouldn’t trust the Dream Chaser as a manned orbital vehicle. Who wants to trust a company that willfully and happily suppresses results from a glide test that was paid for with tax payer funds? I don’t. If SpaceX, Orbital ATK and ULA can have vehicle failures and release video to the public showing it, then, SNC can too.

  • Search

    “in a few years” thats funny. So we are to believe that Dream Chaser – which has never flown even unmanned for CRS yet – will be ready for a crewed flight to HST orbit? I wont even begin with the technical reasons. This is just a shameless attempt to get some gubmint money since they werent awarded the Commercial Crew work.

  • Search

    Please stop. You clearly don’t understand even half the challenges.

  • MzUnGu

    There was the Shuttle… Liftingbody don’t seem to bring much to the table with the extra weight and complexities. Crossrange and low G entry is pretty much it. That only brings you to land on wheels quicker, but space operations are always planned months ahead, so not a useful feature. Logistic of bring a more oversize LB back from a remote airport don’t make it easier.

    If anything learned from the shuttle experience is that u wanna land and be alive, u try to keep things as simple as possible.

  • therealdmt

    I assume NASA themselves have seen the crash video, just not the general public. Also, Nasa probably had a few representatives on site who witnessed the mishap in person.

    But anyway, more generally I’m with you – I don’t have much faith in Sierra Nevada to be able to carry out this complex program without a lot of guidance, oversight, additional funding and time.

  • therealdmt

    I think it looks cool. But, looks aren’t everything.

    Factors like safe, competitively priced, reliable, capable and available should probably rank a bit higher in any assessment…

  • MzUnGu

    Haha…right on. Even if they can, Once JWST goes on line, they might be fighting for the same operational budget… and be looked at as redundant during the lean years… So, i doubt it’ll get another repair mission.

    On some long shot, if something bad happened up there on HST, NASA might just even kill it before JWST goes online, Burning the bridge behind you, and force congress to swallow the growing price tag of JWST. So, unfortunately… think HST have it’s day numbered

  • Jeff2Space

    No need for a BA330 to do a simple servicing mission. Just send up a Dragon V2 or CST-100 along with a mission module (on a separate launch) consisting of:

    1. NASA Docking System
    2. Airlock (just copy the US airlock design that’s attached to ISS since it has its own attached N2 and O2 tanks)
    3. Robotic Manipulator System (again, just copy the SSRMS and associated hardware on ISS.
    4. Fixtures to hold equipment that needs to be swapped on Hubble

  • JamesG

    Or launch the parts and a Robonaut on a small-sat bus for about what the administrative overhead of a manned mission would cost…

  • Kenneth_Brown

    Wow, it looks like they cleaned out the whole hanger just for Dream Chaser work. There wasn’t a ton of hanger space for all of the toys at Dryden in the first place. I’ll have to to go and see where they are putting everything.

  • windbourne

    None of those systems really have the ability to deal with ppl. For example, any mission at the scope will last a day getting there. 1-4 days working on it, and a day back. Do you want these poor ppl living in diapers? And eating what?

    A sundancer (a BA-330 is doable, but big), with a tug like aces, combined with an airlock/RMS on the front would make far more sense. It would have better life support, more room for equipment, etc. It really makes more sense than using a capsule or DC.

  • windbourne

    that is interesting thought.

  • windbourne

    yes, but a lifting body really is not needed for this. The shuttle was a better match due to the major support for the crew.

  • windbourne

    Eric. Where do you live?
    If you are in Colorado, go to the Wings over the Rockies.
    Then look at the the HL-20. That is what the DC is heavily based on.
    Look inside of that. Our Toyota Highlander has more space than that. Then imagine 3-4 adults living in there for about 3-5 days.

    In an emergency, absolutely.
    In the course of a normal mission? Nope.

  • windbourne
  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Sexy!

  • Jeff2Space

    Fine, add a “node” sized module from ISS to tie it all together. But you don’t need a BA-330!

    If it was good enough for the Apollo lunar missions to spend the mission split between the small Apollo CM and the even smaller Apollo LM…

  • windbourne

    That is why sundancer makes sense as a nice transport. 180 M^3 & 8000 kg. Yes twice the mplm, but a lot more volume. However, even mplm works for me. Doing a 3-5 day mission with 2-3 ppl in 10^3 is way too tight.
    Apollo cm and LM offered a great deal more room than a dragon

  • Jeff2Space

    You’re moving the goalposts by switching modules. Noted.

  • windbourne

    how funny that you think so.
    I have said in each posting a sundancer or a ba330.
    I have also said that a BA330 is big for this, which is why I wrote Blair Bigelow and asked her if sundancer was truly off the table and she said no. They would look at sundancer/tug approach.
    IOW, BA is obviously wanting that same idea.

  • Jeff2Space

    Sure, might be possible to build and fly Sundancer. A servicing mission still doesn’t need that much pressurized space. But, as long as it’s competitive on mass, cost, and schedule, why not?

  • windbourne

    i know that I would rather send a crew that is going to be happy to go do a hard job like that.

  • windbourne

    You are right that they do NOT need it. However, there is no real reason to cramp them in capsules either, when a larger one will allow for say 3-4 ppl to go, be safer, and a great deal more comfortable.

  • publiusr

    Now here is a question that is a bit out there.

    Suppose Webb freezes up–gets stuck.

    Could a Dragon aboard Falcon Heavy get an astronaut up there to pull it open?

  • JamesG

    Could? Probably yes. But NASA & Congress would never approve the funding for it. They would handwave something about not being “certified” for “deep space” when what they mean is that is a job for SLS and Orion. So they would spend a billion and a half dollars and probably the better part of a decade before sending someone out there to tug on the mirror.

  • Jeff2Space

    This is silly. Besides Apollo 13, who were fighting for their lives, how many lunar missions had crews who complained that they weren’t happy? Add to that Gemini and Apollo missions if you want. Heck, add to that shuttle missions where there wasn’t extra pressurized space (e.g. Hubble servicing missions).

    Astronauts do not need five star accommodations, especially for short missions. People will endure a tiny bit of hardship in order to experience something truly unique. Ask anyone who has hiked the Appalachian Trail or scaled Mt. Everest.