The new American Space race is well underway since NASA’s budget has been cut. Three private companies are looking to fill the gap, each of which is getting NASA’s guidance even as they are competing for funds and approval. Yet, it would seem that Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Space Systems is pulling ahead, having completed a second successful carry flight of their Dream Chaser Space Craft and winning NASA’s approval.
As of Thursday Aug 22nd, Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser has completed its second successfully carried flight for its manned space shuttle. The Dream Chaser, which has been called a miniature space shuttle, has been designed to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The craft is designed for seven passengers and will land like conventional aircraft, much like the NASA Space Shuttle before it did.
The test was a “captive carry,” which means that the craft was suspended from an Erickson Air-Crane heavy-lift helicopter and carried for the duration of the test. The test took place in the skies above NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. The path of the test followed along what the path of the Dream Chaser may take when returning from orbit. Dream Chaser reached an altitude of 12,400 feet and was able to test in simulated flight guidance, the flight computer, navigation, control systems, as well as landing gear and nose skid. All these components were evaluated and passed NASA’s tests, which brings the Dream Chaser to the point of a full flight test before possibly being awarded the privilege of transporting astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Space Systems has already been awarded $227.5 million by NASA for the project. Now with NASA approval, with the completion of this latest test, the Dream Chaser, is expected to fly on its own come this fall for a full flight test.
The funds and direction for these three companies comes from NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo program. This program is a partnership between NASA and private corporations to facilitate innovation and drive down costs for space exploration. NASA has been providing both financial and technical support for the program, the fruits of which have been the Dream Chaser spacecraft, the Antares rocket, and SpaceX’s Dragon module and Grasshopper rocket.
With SpaceX creating more maneuverable rockets and Sierra Nevada moving forward on a manned space shuttle, the race for a more efficient and cost effective space program is well underway. As sad as it might be to see the end of such an amazing organization as NASA, with so many accomplishments to its name, the next generation is taking root and it bodes very well for the future of space travel and exploration.
If we have managed to go as far as we have with a government agency in charge over the past 50 years, what might the next 50 years look like with innovation and creativity having more time at the helm? With NASA’s approval of the Dream Chaser tests up to this point, only time will tell, but it seems to be a very exciting time that we live in and perhaps commercial rides into orbit are something we will see.
By Iam Bloom