Spaceplane meant to resupply the house station pulled off a profitable glide flight this weekend No ratings yet.

On Saturday, non-public spaceflight firm Sierra Nevada introduced that its Dream Chaser spaceplane had efficiently glided and landed on a runway after being launched from a helicopter. The stunt, achieved at Edwards Air Power Base in Southern California, is called a free-flight take a look at and is supposed to check out the car’s touchdown capabilities. It’s an vital milestone within the Dream Chaser’s improvement, as Sierra Nevada readies the aircraft for spaceflight.

Resembling a mini Area Shuttle, the Dream Chaser will quickly be used to ship cargo to and from the Worldwide Area Station as a part of NASA’s Industrial Cargo Program. Proper now, two firms — SpaceX and Orbital ATK — maintain contracts with NASA to periodically resupply the station by 2018. However final yr, NASA awarded a second spherical of contracts, to be able to cowl cargo shipments to the ISS from 2019 by 2024. Sierra Nevada was picked for that spherical, together with SpaceX and Orbital ATK once more. The corporate expects to start out cargo missions someday in 2020.

The Dream Chaser is a reasonably distinctive car in comparison with the opposite two firms’ spacecraft. Each SpaceX and Orbital ATK developed wingless cargo capsules that launch to the station on high of the businesses’ rockets. Orbital ATK’s capsule — generally known as Cygnus — is then designed to expend within the Earth’s environment as soon as it leaves the station, whereas SpaceX’s Dragon cargo capsule can survive the descent to Earth, utilizing parachutes to land within the ocean. The Dream Chaser, nevertheless, which is supposed to launch on high of an Atlas V rocket, glides all the way down to Earth like a aircraft after reentering the environment, touchdown horizontally on a runway.

Initially, Sierra Nevada had hoped its Dream Chaser would carry astronauts, and never simply cargo, to the ISS. Again in 2010, NASA awarded the corporate $20 million to develop the Dream Chaser as a crewed car, and Sierra Nevada did a ton of exams over the subsequent of years to arrange the spacecraft for carrying passengers. However in 2014, NASA didn’t choose the Dream Chaser to do crewed flights to the ISS, going with SpaceX and Boeing’s proposed automobiles as an alternative. Since then, Sierra Nevada has been modifying the Dream Chaser to simply carry cargo, although the corporate is leaving the choice open to develop a crewed model of the car sooner or later.

This weekend’s free-flight take a look at was the second that Sierra Nevada has achieved with Dream Chaser. The primary one, again in 2013, didn’t go all that easily: the car’s touchdown gears failed, inflicting the spaceplane to crash-land after which skid off the runway. This touchdown and flight, nevertheless, was deemed successful, in accordance with Sierra Nevada. The take a look at car was dropped from an altitude of rather less than 12,500 ft and reached a most pace of 330 miles per hour throughout the 60-second flight. “Every little thing went very nicely for us,” Mike Sirangelo, company vice chairman of Sierra Nevada Company, mentioned throughout a follow-up press convention this afternoon. “General our parameters within the take a look at have been met or exceeded in our minds.”

Sierra Nevada doesn’t anticipate to do any further flights with this take a look at car if the info from this occasion is nice, although the corporate says this explicit Dream Chaser might fly once more if wanted. The info gathered from this take a look at will then be used to refine the event of the corporate’s first car that may go to orbit, which is at the moment beneath building. That Dream Chaser may even undergo in depth testing earlier than its first flight to house, which would be the firm’s first operational flight for NASA.

Although, it’s not simply NASA that plans to make use of the spaceplane: the United Nations additionally has a cope with Sierra Nevada to fly payloads to orbit from different nations on the Dream Chaser, beginning someday in 2021. And Sierra Nevada hopes to search out different prospects for the car sooner or later, too. So as soon as this spaceplane is prepared for spaceflight, it might have quite a lot of work to do.

Replace November 13th, four:45PM ET: This text was replace to incorporate new data from a Sierra Nevada press convention.

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