Dream Chaser Moves on to Final NASA Testing

An artist rendering of Dream Chaser. Image: Sierra Space

The spaceplane is back.

Sierra Space completed construction of its Dream Chaser spaceplane that will resupply the ISS, the company announced yesterday. The vehicle, dubbed Tenacity, will now head to a NASA facility for a battery of final environmental, vibration, and mission readiness tests ahead of its first launch to the ISS next year. 

The mission: The Broomfield, CO-based company will hitch a ride to the ISS on ULA Vulcan’s second launch, scheduled for Q1 2024

  • The mission to the ISS is the first under a large NASA commercial resupply contract, which is targeting seven uncrewed delivery flights. 
  • Sierra has designed Dream Chaser to be reused 15+ times.

While the spacecraft will ascend vertically on Vulcan, it will return to Earth in a glide—landing horizontally on a runway. Along with avoiding a turbulent splashdown, the 1.5 g reentry speeds will offer a more leisurely ride and timely access to sensitive cargo, such as science experiments. 

Shuttle comps: Dream Chaser, which has been in development for more than a decade,  traces its origins back to the HL-20 spacecraft, a proposed substitute for the shuttle that NASA ultimately passed on. 

  • Dream Chaser spans 30 ft, one-quarter the size of the shuttle
  • The spacecraft is capable of delivering 5,500 kg to the ISS, half the capacity of the shuttle
  • Like the shuttle, the launch vehicle requires hundreds of custom-shaped reentry heat protection tiles, which can be a source of cost and headache

Training wheels: After ULA launches Dream Chaser, NASA will pull the spacecraft aside in orbit and conduct a series of control maneuver tests before it lets it anywhere near the ISS. With seven people inhabiting the space station, NASA will not be taking any chances.  

Down the road: If Dream Chaser proves reliable, Sierra hopes to expand its launch offerings to transporting crew and national security payloads to orbit. 

$5.3B valuation: Sierra Space brought in a $290M Series B funding round in September, bringing its valuation to $5.3B. In addition to Dream Chaser, the company also sells space system products and is developing a unique inflatable habitat to append to a space station.

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