On Saturday, private spaceflight company Sierra Nevada announced that its Dream Chaser spaceplane had successfully glided and landed on a runway after being released from a helicopter. The stunt, done at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California, is known as a free-flight test and is meant to test out the vehicle’s landing capabilities. It’s an important milestone in the Dream Chaser’s development, as Sierra Nevada readies the plane for spaceflight.
Eventually, the Dream Chaser is hoped to be used for resupply missions to the ISS. Sierra Nevada Corp isn’t meeting its original timeline so far. The company announced back in 2014 that it would conduct its first unmanned orbital flight in 2016. During the recent glide test, the spacecraft had no human pilot aboard.
The company did not announce the test in advance, but it was widely thought to be imminent. During a House Science Committee hearing Nov. 9, Bill Gersternmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said the test was approaching, but gave a Nov. 14 date for the event, three days later than when it actually occurred.
NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center said in Nov. 11 statement that the glide flight “verified and validated the performance of the Dream Chaser in the critical final approach and landing phase of flight.” The flight was a final funded milestone in the Space Act Agreement that Sierra Nevada Corporation has with NASA as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability effort.
“The vehicle is in perfect shape, no issues,” Mark N. Sirangelo, the head of Sierra Nevada Space Systems, the maker of the Dream Chaser, said in an interview.
If NASA agrees that this test was sufficient, the test vehicle will go into storage. The company will then focus on an update, already under construction, that will launch on top of an Atlas 5 rocket en route to the space station.