Science & Technology

Sierra Nevada Corp. gears up to build a cargo spaceship – and a space station

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Sierra Nevada Corp. is displaying off a prototype of its Dream Chaser space airplane, however its focus is rapidly shifting to constructing the true factor to ship to orbit.

And as if that’s not sufficient, there’s an orbital energy plant and space habitat to work on as nicely.

SNC executives supplied what they promised can be a collection of standing reviews at the moment right here on the thirty fourth Space Symposium, in entrance of the engineering take a look at automobile for the Dream Chaser program.

The 30-foot-long, stubby-winged airplane was constructed for atmospheric exams, to examine the aerodynamics and flight management programs for an autonomous mini-space shuttle that shall be able to ferrying cargo to and from the Worldwide Space Station beginning in 2020.

The airplane flew a “completely successful” test last November after being dropped from a helicopter hovering at a top of 12,000 toes, SNC’s Mark Sirangelo informed reporters. The flight profile was related to that used for the space shuttle Enterprise’s atmospheric exams in the course of the early days of NASA’s shuttle program, however with out a pilot on the controls.

“That is our Enterprise,” mentioned Sirangelo, who heads the corporate’s Space Programs enterprise space.

After its star flip on the Space Symposium, the take a look at automobile shall be transported to SNC’s manufacturing facility in Louisville, Colo., and put in “flyable storage,” mentioned Steve Lindsey, a former NASA astronaut who now serves as SNC’s vice chairman of space exploration programs.

It’s not anticipated to fly once more until and till SNC revives its plans to build a crew-capable model of the Dream Chaser. However thanks to the info acquired throughout its flight exams, SNC is transferring forward with improvement of the still-uncrewed however space-worthy Dream Chaser.

Lindsey mentioned plans for the orbital automobile has gone by means of important design evaluate, and the primary elements of the first construction are due to arrive in Louisville subsequent month. “We’re going into manufacturing now,” he mentioned.

As soon as it’s assembled, the airplane shall be examined on the bottom, in vacuum chambers and on runways. If all proceeds in accordance to plan, it would go all the way in which to the space station on its first launch, scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2020 on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. As soon as it makes its supply, the reusable airplane can fly itself again to a runway touchdown.

Sirangelo declined to specify how a lot SNC has spent on the Dream Chaser over the previous 13-plus years, besides to say that it’s a “vital quantity.”

SpaceX, Orbital ATK and Sierra Nevada Corp. are all due to share in a NASA cargo resupply program that might dole out as a lot as $14 billion within the 2019-2024 timeframe. Every service is assured at the least six flight orders, however NASA hasn’t mentioned how the funds will break down on a per-flight foundation.

SNC can also be within the working to present two key items of {hardware} for NASA’s future space exploration program, which focuses on the in-space development of a Lunar Orbiting Platform – Gateway within the mid-2020s.

The corporate received separate NextSTEP-2 contracts to build a ground-based prototype for the primary piece of the gateway, often called the facility and propulsion factor, in addition to for an expandable deep-space habitat that might be connected to the advanced.

“After we begin constructing this [Dream Chaser] automobile up in Louisville, on the identical time we’re really constructing a full-sized prototype of the lunar gateway, which’ll be constructed proper subsequent to it,” Lindsey mentioned. “So it’ll be a actually cool place to come go to.”

NASA awarded the contracts as a part of a competitive program that involves other companies as nicely, and it’ll be a whereas earlier than the company awards contracts for the precise space {hardware}. The ability and propulsion factor is presently due for launch in 2022.

It’s not sure that SNC shall be offering modules for the space gateway, however for now, Sirangelo is reveling within the second. He famous that 2018 marks the golden anniversary of the theatrical launch of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

“In a bizarre form of approach, for these of us who’ve seen that film, should you bear in mind, there was a business space airplane going to a business space station in that film,” Sirangelo mentioned.

“And right here we’re — as a firm that, a variety of years in the past, most individuals didn’t know — we at the moment are constructing a business space airplane, and a business space station. The 2 are going to be collectively,” he mentioned. “How cool is that, to find a way to say that you are able to do each of these in your lifetime?”

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