Sierra Nevada Corporation has successfully completed NASA’s Integration Review 4 (IR4), the final hurdle before starting production of the company’s Dream Chaser spacecraft. With many critical components of the first production vehicle already complete, very little stands in the way of the Dream Chaser’s maiden flight.
“We are one step closer to the Dream Chaser spacecraft’s first orbital flight.” said Fatih Ozmen, co-owner, and CEO of SNC. “This comprehensive review approved moving the Dream Chaser program into the production phase so we can get Dream Chaser to market as a critical space station resupply spacecraft as soon as possible.”
The IR4 was not only the final hurdle of NASA extensive vetting period, it was also the most extensive. “IR4 was a series of reviews, documentation, and data deliverables that are the culmination of many years of design work, analysis, and development testing,” said Ozmen.
Although touted as a brand new vehicle, the Dream Chaser is based on a design that can be traced back to the 1980s. It was born from an eyewitness account from an Australian reconnaissance plane that spotted an early Soviet spaceplane. Having no space program themselves, Australia passed on the information to the United States.
NASA engineers at the Langley Research Center began work on a prototype based on the information they had received. The design was dubbed the HL-20 and was originally planned to act as a lifeboat for the crew aboard the International Space Station. However, the end of the Cold War saw the HL-20, and many other projects like it left to be forgotten in a dusty warehouse somewhere.
In the early 2000s, Sierra Nevada Corporation visited Langley in the hopes of securing a design they could use. What they found was the HL-20, potentially one of the most extensively tested spacecraft to never launch.
One of the key advantages the Dream Chaser spacecraft will have over other tradition orbital spacecraft like the Soyuz and the Cargo Dragon is its ability to land horizontally at an airfield. This allows the spacecraft to touchdown at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and has science experiments unloaded within hours rather than days. It is an advantage that Sierra Nevada Corporation will likely use to its advantages when bidding for future commercial ISS resupply missions.
The Dream Chaser maiden flight is currently scheduled for 2020.