Sierra Nevada Completes Partnership Agreement with Dream Chaser Free Flight

Dream Chaser in a captive carry flight over the Mojave. (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation
Dream Chaser in a captive carry flight over the Mojave. (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation

By Rebecca Regan
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has successfully completed one of its partnership agreements with NASA, through which the company continued development of its Dream Chaser spacecraft. The Commercial Crew Development Round 2 (CCDev2) agreement culminated with a review of the data collected during the company’s first free-flight test of the Dream Chaser spacecraft. SNC is one of NASA’s commercial partners working to develop the next generation of U.S. spacecraft and rockets capable of transporting humans to and from low-Earth orbit from American soil.

SNC’s flight test at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center and Edwards Air Force Base in Edwards, Calif., occurred Oct. 26. The Dream Chaser spacecraft collected the data necessary to characterize its aerodynamic and flight control capabilities, despite an anomaly during landing and rollout, meeting all of the milestone criteria outlined in the agreement.

“A spacecraft that lands on runways provides unique benefits for commercial spaceflight, but also presents unique development challenges,” said Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of Commercial Spaceflight Development. “This flight of the Dream Chaser’s full-scale atmospheric flight test vehicle considerably improves confidence in the Dream Chaser’s design and Sierra Nevada Corporation’s ability to overcome engineering development challenges.”

The company partnered with NASA for two-and-a-half years under the CCDev2 agreement, working to design and develop its Dream Chaser spacecraft. Engineers performed rigorous wind tunnel tests of the spacecraft alone and integrated to a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. SNC began testing and selecting materials for the spacecraft’s thermal protection system, fired Dream Chaser’s reaction control system thrusters and performed multiple captive-carry flights to assess the vehicle’s performance in-flight. The company also constructed avionics and flight control integration labs, and a cockpit-based flight simulator at its facility in Louisville, Colo.

“SNC is pleased to begin flight testing and to have successfully completed the CCDev2 agreement,” said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president and head of SNC’s Space Systems. “Having the Dream Chaser flight exceed our expectations on its first autonomous flight was an extraordinary accomplishment for SNC, its team of industry, government and university partners and all those who worked on the NASA heritage HL-20.”

SNC, in collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, continues to make strides in refining the company’s fully integrated space transportation system through the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative. SNC also is working to establish plans for certifying its system for crewed missions to the International Space Station through its Certification Products Contract (CPC) with the agency.

All of NASA’s industry partners, including SNC, continue to meet their established milestones in developing commercial crew transportation capabilities.