One More Time: Dream Chaser / Sierra Nevada Corporation
Sierra Nevada Corporation formally introduced the latest variant of its oft proposed but thus far underloved Dream Chaser space plane on Tuesday, March 17th. It is intended to compete for NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2, (CRS2) contract to serve the International Space Station.
Unlike the manned Dream Chaser which comprised SNC’s proposal for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, winning funding in the first three rounds, but failing to make the final cut, the cargo only Dream Chaser is a different take on a platform whose heritage stretches all the way back to the Soviet Union’s Buran Shuttle program.
It’s wings are now designed to be folded so that it can fit within the space of a standard 5.2 meter payload fairing, a change which significantly improves its adaptability to a wider range of launch vehicles including Atlas V, Delta Heavy, Ariane V, Falcon 9 and Japan’s H-II.
In meeting NASA’s need for externally mounted, unpressurized payloads, the new Dream Chaser now sports an aft mounted “cargo trailer” featuring Teledyne Brown Engineering Flight Releasable Attachment Mechanisms (Frams).
Lacking any accommodations for crew, and with seats, internal elements and even windows removed, SNC says the new version meets all of NASA’s cargo requirements for both up and down mass.
As with all versions of the mini-shuttle, whether the original commercial crew proposal, the smaller two or three person variant which would lift off aboard Paul Allen’s StratoLaunch/Thunderbolt project, or possible European or Japanese launched models, one of Dream Chaser’s main attributes, the ability to perform a minimally disruptive 1.5 G landing at nearly any large commercial airfield remains perhaps its best feature.
Will NASA finally give the go ahead to this latest, and perhaps final version of Dream Chaser? We won’t know until sometime over the summer, but with five companies, including the current providers SpaceX and Orbital-ATK, as well as aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin all now pursuing what are considered to be two slots, Dream Chaser’s glide to the runway soft landing architecture, flavored with a healthy dose of nostalgia, may well be its last, best hope.