Monday, May 13, 2024

Sierra's Dream Chaser On the way to KSC

It has been a while since we've heard anything about the acceptance and qualification testing of Sierra Space's Dream Chaser vehicle. That was in early February when Sierra Space did a public showing of the "mini space shuttle" at NASA's Neil Armstrong Test Facility in Sandusky, Ohio.

We learned today that testing has wrapped up in Ohio and the ship is bring moved to the Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral where it will undergo its final tests before being mated to the Vulcan Centaur it's scheduled to ride to orbit. While no expected date is given, United Launch Alliance wants to get this launch accomplished before the end of '24 to complete certification of their Vulcan Centaur for DOD payloads. 

There has been speculation that Dream Chaser wouldn't be ready this year and that ULA has been considering either another payload or just lifting a dummy weight into orbit.

The first test saw the space plane, along with its additional cargo attachment ‘Shooting Star’, connected to the Vulcan Centaur stage separation mechanism for a shock test, followed by being placed on the most powerful spacecraft shaker table in the world. This testing took place over 5 weeks as teams replicated the conditions the space plane would see during launch on Vulcan. They also conducted the same testing but replicated the separation of the cargo attachment from Dream Chaser before de-orbiting.

After that round of testing, the space plane was moved into a thermal vacuum chamber which can cycle temperatures from -150F to +250F (-101C to +121C), the same temperatures it would see while in space.

Photo during testing on April 3 of the orbiter Tenacity and its cargo module Shooting Star inside the thermal vacuum testing chamber at NASA’s Armstrong Test Facility. Image from Sierra Space on X

Sierra also posted a video summarizing their time at the Armstrong Test Facility and their journey to this point. 


  1. Be funny if it flew before Starliner.

    1. It would, indeed. There would be a lot of seppuku at Boeing if it did - or there should be...

  2. The basic concept of the NASA is a great platform. Here is hoping these guys fly a reusable space plane that has all the merits and none of the faults. Seriously. Wish them good fortune.

    1. The Shuttle Program suffered severely from "Mission Creep". The DoD wanted stuff, Nasa wanted stuff, etc. - you get the idea. Creeping Featureitis made it a Swiss Army can opener. Sierra Space plans to make Dreamchaser a little more focused on certain things only!

    2. And the Astronaut Office has no use for winged crew vehicles.

  3. Go Dreamchaser!
    Go Tenacity!
    Go, Sierra Space!!
    I want them to be every bit as successful as SpaceX,

  4. You know, the more I look at Dreamchaser the more it bothers me... and I finally figured out what it is.

    It's the Shooting Star. And why it's a cone.

    I know, originally it was supposed to be on the Atlas V and wasn't going to have a fairing covering it, but now that DreamChaser and Shooting Star are mounted on Vulcan the whole thingy is covered by a fairing.

    So... Why still the cone? Sierra knew years ago that Atlas wasn't going to be available as a launch vehicle. Why not modify it into a more simple cylinder or even a square or rectangular box? That would be easier to make, easier to move, carry more cargo, carry more propellant.

    So why the cone?

    1. Thus spake the Aerodynamics gods:
      No square or cylinder if you want to re-enter and survive.

    2. Shooting Star is the disposable maneuvering/cargo section of the DreamChaser system, and, yes, the DreamChaser itself is aerodynamic. So no aerodynamics needed, as by the time the fairing is released there really isn't any aerodynamic drag at all.

      It would be like making standard satellites aerodynamic. You know, the satellites that are covered by... a fairing. A fairing that is released past the point of aerodynamic drag.

      Originally, yes, Shooting Star was designed as a cone because DreamChaser/Shooting Star would be launched from Atlas 5 which would launch without a fairing because weight considerations blah blah blah.

      But now that Atlas 5 isn't going to ever be used, why didn't they make Shooting Star easier to manufacture, carry yada yada by making it a cylinder or box?

  5. It seems we are in the not too far future going to see some amazing advancements, some critically vital changes for now mostly under the radar, ie, kept from us by any means possible, are in the wind. The entire foundation of science as we have known it called Einsteinium space is different.
    Ever hear of the formula: V (velocity), and E (energy), and T (time which is really distance), which equals M (matter)" ?
    It is said V+E over T ='s M is replaced E='s MC Squared.
    The theory based on how everything is now made of light. Dark matter is not a thing anymore. And why all the theories about dark matter are wrong, and why they searched and never seem to find it.
    If V+E over T ='s M really is, maybe we are in a kind of quantum age where light is the basis of everything. Highly intriguing possibilities. And its kind of funny, because myself and others I personally know, we have noticed the light from our sun seems different now, began last summer near fall time, its rather subtle but once you notice you can not un-notice the different hue or quality of light during daytime particularly when the sun is shining, even thru a partly cloudy day it appears different. Started asking people like at the supermarket, strangers, after striking up a conversation, (i live in a tiny town where most folks are open and friendly to each other), hey, want to ask you if you noticed something, how the light is a bit different lately? And what comes back is mostly like this, "mmm, you know it does seem different, now you brought it up".

    1. Physically, as you age, your eye's cataracts change/age and your ability to perceive light "properly" changes. It's similar to the yellowing/occlusion that your plastic headlights cover breaks down under exposure to UV light. The sun's spectrum hasn't changed, your perception has. This is why you need to depend on instruments that don't have biological occlusions/property changes.
      Just ask any older person that has had cataract surgery about the perception change(s). Your perception of color changes after the "clear" new cataract(s) is/are installed. Trust me, I know from experience!

    2. I was going to add that Igor. One of my first friends who had cataract surgery said the biggest thing he noticed after surgery was just how much color he'd forgotten was in the world. This was 35 or 40 years ago.

      The minor correction is that this isn't "your eye's cataracts" it's your lenses - cataracts or not. While they seem to say we'll all get cataracts if we live long enough, our lenses change their color with age and change everything we see.

      Does the sunlight look different to me? Nope. Looks like the sun to me, which is to say that the color changes not just day by day but hour by hour. Photographers have probably filled books about that. Since I haven't actually read any photography books since long before digital cameras, it's probably only us old guys that think of it.

    3. My bad, Beans - I thought you were referring to the Dreamchaser!
      Cone or cylinder, Just have to have the cone or cylinder the right size to mate with whatever you are going to dock to...

  6. I helped design the interior lighting, the nav lights, and the ECLSS electronics.
    Good to see it finally in line for launch!

  7. Go to space to make life better on Earth. Who knew?
    I know, it's just marketing. I also know there are people who believe that. It seems sacrilegious, that what is on Earth is insufficient.

    I have to wonder the purpose of dream chaser. Confined to LEO shuttle status, ISS scheduled for deorbit, dream chaser seems awfully short sighted.

    1. Originally DreamChaser was designed, way back when, as the ISS lifeboat for the Shuttle days. And for just crew transport, a mini shuttle as it were.

      Sierra Nevada kept working on it, a bit here, a bit there, slowly, even after NASA/Congress cancelled the Lifeboat/Crew Transport.

      Then, when NASA called for Commercial service to the ISS, Sierra Nevada responded with the Dreamchaser Passenger and Cargo versions, Cargo being basically taking the windows, controls, life support, seats and all that and turning it into a drone ship.

      Then NASA selected Boeing's Starliner and SpaceX's Dragon for Passenger service and Northrop's Cygnus and SpaceX's Dragon for Caargo and didn't select DreamChaser. And now it looks like Dreamchaser will be delivering cargo before Starliner shows up.

      But... Sierra Nevada, and now Sierra Space, kept working on DreamChaser.

      DreamChaser is also designed to be used with all the ISS replacements, like Orbital Reef. And the passenger version, when it appears, has been shown as a key component of several of the commercial stations, including one wheel with artificial gravity.

      Seriously, make it and they will come. Just look at SpaceX with the Inspiron missions, privately purchased crew missions to the ISS and into space itself because Dragon is there and it's cheap in comparison to Starliner or Orion or even Soyuz.