Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) reached another milestone earlier this week in its efforts to become the next commercial company to venture into space and provide NASA crew transport capabilities to low-Earth orbit, or “LEO” as it is more commonly called. The NewSpace firm successfully completed a test of the nose landing gear for its full-scale Dream Chaser engineering flight test vehicle, paving the way towards an autonomous Approach and Landing Test, or ALT, later this year at Edwards Air Force Base in California, which will be conducted in cooperation with NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center.
The test evaluated the impact the nose landing gear will experience on touchdown in order to ensure a safe runway landing – one of Dream Chaser’s big selling points is its ability to land on any conventional runway capable of handling commercial air traffic. The spacecraft is the only vehicle under the Commercial Crew Development Round 2 (CCDev2) agreement with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) that has wings and can land on a runway.
VIDEO: Dream Chaser Concept of Operations. Credit: SNCspacesystems
“The landing gear system must perform flawlessly, just like the space shuttle orbiter’s did, for the safe return of the crew,” CCP program manager Ed Mango said. “It’s great to see that SNC is building on that experience while developing the Dream Chaser spacecraft.”
The main landing gear was tested last February, and successful completion of nose gear tests this week completes the milestones leading up to the free flight approach and landing test later this year.
“This test marks a significant point in the development of the Dream Chaser orbital crew vehicle. As the last milestone before free flight of the Dream Chaser spacecraft, we are now preparing for the approach and landing tests to be flown later this year,” said Jim Voss, SNC vice president of space exploration systems and program manager for the Dream Chaser.
To date, Sierra Nevada has completed all CCDev milestones on schedule. The company conducted three successful test firings of a single hybrid rocket motor in one day in October 2010. Other important milestones accomplished thus far include a System Requirements Review, a new cockpit simulator, and completion of their functional Vehicle Avionics Integration Laboratory (VAIL) – which will be used to test Dream Chaser computers and electronics in simulated space mission scenarios for developmental testing, and later will be used as a key tool for Dream Chaser certification. Wind tunnel testing of a full scale model Dream Chaser vehicle was completed successfully last April, leading to their full scale captive carry flight test of the vehicle attached to an Erickson Air Crane helicopter on May 29.
Sierra Nevada is one of several companies currently competing to develop commercial crew transportation capabilities in cooperation with NASA – with the goal of achieving safe, reliable, and cost effective access to and from LEO and the International Space Station (ISS).