Dream Chaser Spaceplane by Sierra Space: A New Era in ISS Supply Missions for NASA

by François Dupont
Dream Chaser Spacecraft

An image depicts Sierra Space’s inaugural Dream Chaser, designated DC#1 (Tenacity). This spacecraft, engineered by Sierra Space for NASA, is on track for a 2024 test flight to the ISS, aiming to deliver cargo and complete in-orbit verification. Image courtesy of Sierra Space.

Scheduled for a 2024 test mission to the ISS, NASA and Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser spacecraft will undertake cargo transport and a series of in-orbit evaluations to confirm its readiness for subsequent missions.

Progress is being made on the Dream Chaser spacecraft’s maiden voyage to the International Space Station by NASA and Sierra Space. This automated cargo spaceplane is expected to embark on its test mission in 2024 to the space station, serving as a part of NASA’s commercial cargo resupply program.

Dream Chaser and Shooting Star Components

Constructed in Louisville, Colorado, by Sierra Space, the Dream Chaser cargo system comprises two primary components: the Dream Chaser spaceplane and the Shooting Star cargo module. The Dream Chaser, a lifting body spacecraft, is adapted from NASA’s Langley Research Center’s HL-20 design in Hampton, Virginia, and is built for up to 15 reuses.

The Shooting Star, a complementary cargo module, is designed for both delivering and disposing of pressurized and unpressurized cargo to the ISS. This module is single-use and is jettisoned before re-entry.

The Dream Chaser will be launched with its wings folded inside a five-meter fairing on a ULA Vulcan Centaur rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida. The fairing shields the spacecraft during ascent and is discarded in orbit. Solar arrays on Dream Chaser’s wings and cargo module are deployed for its autonomous journey to the ISS. Dream Chaser can be relaunched within 24 hours in case of a mission delay.

Mission Details

Sierra Space will perform in-orbit tests during Dream Chaser’s inaugural flight to certify it for future missions. Flight monitoring will be conducted from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Johnson Space Center, and Dream Chaser Mission Control Center in Louisville. Sierra Space flight controllers will manage the spacecraft until it is handed over to Sierra Space’s ground team at NASA Kennedy post-landing.

Far-field demonstrations, conducted away from the ISS, will include tests of attitude control, maneuvering, and abort procedures before Dream Chaser joins operations with NASA’s Houston-based Mission Control. Near-field tests, closer to the ISS, will involve LIDAR sensor activation, station command responses, retreat commands, and approach holds at specified distances. Successful completion of these tests will allow Dream Chaser to dock with the station.

Once near the ISS, Dream Chaser will hold position before being grappled by the Canadarm2 and attached to either the Unity or Harmony module. On its maiden flight, Dream Chaser aims to deliver over 7,800 pounds of cargo. In future missions, it may stay attached to the ISS for up to 75 days and transport up to 11,500 pounds of cargo. It has the capacity to return over 3,500 pounds of cargo and samples to Earth, with over 8,700 pounds of trash disposed during reentry.

Return Procedure

After approximately 45 days at the ISS, Dream Chaser will depart, capable of landing within 11 to 15 hours. Landing criteria include specific wind and weather conditions. Dream Chaser will re-enter the atmosphere and land like NASA’s space shuttles at Kennedy’s Launch and Landing Facility, marking the first landing there since the last shuttle flight in 2011.

Post-landing, the spacecraft will be transferred to the Space System Processing Facility for inspection, cargo off-loading, and preparation for its next mission.

Sierra Space, previously known as Sierra Nevada Corporation, was chosen by NASA in 2016 as the third commercial cargo spacecraft for the ISS.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Dream Chaser Spacecraft

What is the Dream Chaser spacecraft?

The Dream Chaser spacecraft, developed by Sierra Space for NASA, is designed for cargo delivery to the International Space Station (ISS). It’s a reusable spaceplane, expected to conduct its demonstration mission in 2024, focusing on delivering cargo and completing in-orbit certification.

Who is developing the Dream Chaser and for what purpose?

Sierra Space is developing the Dream Chaser spacecraft, primarily for NASA’s commercial cargo resupply services to the ISS. The spacecraft is intended to transport cargo, both pressurized and unpressurized, to the ISS and facilitate its disposal.

What are the components of the Dream Chaser cargo system?

The Dream Chaser cargo system consists of two main components: the Dream Chaser spaceplane and the Shooting Star cargo module. The Dream Chaser is reusable, capable of up to 15 missions, and the Shooting Star module is designed for single-use, to be disposed of before re-entry.

How will the Dream Chaser be launched?

The Dream Chaser will be launched with its wings folded inside a five-meter fairing on a United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur rocket. It will take off from the Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

What are the key features of Dream Chaser’s first mission to the ISS?

During its first mission to the ISS, Dream Chaser will deliver over 7,800 pounds of cargo. It will conduct various in-orbit demonstrations to certify its capabilities for future missions. These include attitude control, translational maneuvers, and docking procedures with the ISS.

What is the return process for the Dream Chaser after completing its mission?

After its mission duration of about 45 days at the ISS, Dream Chaser will return to Earth. It will re-enter the atmosphere and glide to a runway landing at Kennedy’s Launch and Landing Facility, akin to NASA’s space shuttle landings.

How has Sierra Space contributed to the ISS resupply missions?

Sierra Space, formerly Sierra Nevada Corporation, was selected in 2016 as one of NASA’s commercial cargo resupply spacecraft providers for the ISS. The Dream Chaser is their key contribution, designed to enhance the resupply missions with its reusable and efficient cargo system.

More about Dream Chaser Spacecraft

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GrammarGeek December 27, 2023 - 8:02 am

Some minor typos here and there, but the content’s solid. A good read for space enthusiasts and news junkies alike.

TechNerd_22 December 27, 2023 - 8:08 am

Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser sounds cool. It’s reusable, deliverin’ goods to the ISS, and even landin’ like a shuttle. Impressive!

SpaceEnthusiast123 December 27, 2023 - 6:19 pm

Wow, this is amazin’! Dream Chaser’s goin’ to the ISS in 2024, deliverin’ cargo and doin’ tests. Excitin’ stuff!

NewsJunkie December 28, 2023 - 6:49 am

Thumbs up for the FAQ, makes it easy to understand Dream Chaser’s mission. Reusability is the future, ain’t it?


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