Sierra Nevada conducted a captive carriage test flight of the Dream Chaser engineering test article on Aug 22 at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards AFB, Calif, in preparation for the start of approach and landing free flight tests in September. The two-hour flight covered a three-mile route over the dry lake bed which the vehicle is expected to follow during its forthcoming free-flight.
The test, which saw the lifting body space vehicle lifted by a Sikorsky S-64 to around 12,400 ft above the dry lakebed, follows completion of tow tests earlier this month. The Dream Chaser performed four sets of slow and high speed ground tow tests since July with runs completed at 10 mph, 20 mph, 40 mph and 60 mph to verify integrated spacecraft performance under landing and rollout conditions. Sierra Nevada says systems verifications included flight computer and flight software, instrumentation, guidance, navigation, and control, braking and steering performance, flight control surface actuation, mission control and remote commanding capability, and landing gear dynamics. “The tests ensure the Dream Chaser would operate properly upon landing and that the spacecraft will come to a controlled stop after touching down on the runway,” it adds. Following the captive carry test, the evaluation will culminate with at least one approach and landing free flight test.
During the Aug 22 flight the Dream Chaser's flight computer, guidance, navigation and control systems were tested along with its landing gear and nose skid, which were deployed during the sortie.
Sierra Nevada is competing with the lifting body vehicle against alternative capsule designs developed by Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and Boeing, for NASA’s commercial crew program under a $212.5 million Commercial Crew integrated Capability (CCiCap) contract awarded in August 2012. Sierra Nevada says it is on track to complete all 12 of its contractual CCiCap milestones by mid-2014. The Dream Chaser design is based primarily on NASA’s HL-20 lifting body and is capable of carrying seven astronauts to orbit. The vehicle is designed to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 402.