Colorado-based aerospace company Sierra Space announced a “groundbreaking leap space transportation technology” as its supersonic spaceplane Dream Chaser has successfully been powered up for the first time in a key test.
Sierra Space’s testing was based on a simulation of the power that will be generated from Dream Chaser’s solar arrays once on orbit. Test engineers plugged that power into Dream Chaser and began turning on systems. Once activated, Sierra Space then exercised successful flight computers, base processors and low-voltage distribution units. The power-up of this spaceplane comes after years of rigorous engineering, design, and testing, Sierra Space noted in a press statement on May 31.
“This is a milestone that points to the future and is a key moment in a long journey for Dream Chaser,” said Tom Vice, CEO of Sierra Space. “With this significant achievement, our Dream Chaser spaceplane is poised to redefine commercial space travel, opening up new possibilities for scientific research, technological advancements, and economic opportunities in space.”
Speaking during a panel at the 38th Space Symposium in April, Janet Kavandi, Sierra Space’s President, said Dream Chaser would ship to the test facility “in the July timeframe”, Space News reported. She said the vehicle would be tested there for a few months before shipping to Florida. “We should be ready to go by the end of this year,” she said referring to plans for launching the Dream Chaser.
The first launch remains on track to depart in 2023 with a cargo mission, and the first manned mission is due in 2026. However, the first test flight might be delayed due to slow Vulcan Centaur progress, the heavy-lift launch vehicle in development by United Launch Alliance (ULA) which is meant to carry Dream Chaser to space. Vulcan Centaur is due to launch two of Amazon’s Starlink-rival service Project Kuiper satellites but it has faced numerous delays. ULA announced the interruption of a key flight readiness test on May 25 due to an issue with the rocket’s booster engine ignition system.
2. Combining aircraft and spacecraft
The most extraordinary feature of the Dream Chaser is perhaps its unique lifting body design, combining the flexibility of an aircraft with the capabilities of a spacecraft. The spaceplane is a reusable, fully autonomous, orbital spaceplane designed to transport cargo to low-Earth orbit (LEO) destinations such as the International Space Station (ISS) and land at conventional runways.
The aircraft is one of NASA’s commercial resupply services and it will join the fleet of utility spacecraft like SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus module — both of which hold the important task of transporting cargo to the ISS.
The aircraft measures about one-quarter the size of the Space Shuttle, featuring autonomous launch, flight, and landing capabilities with a smooth 1.5 low-gravity re-entry on compatible commercial runways worldwide.