SAN DIEGO – Sierra Nevada Space Systems is readying the refurbished engineering test article (ETA) version of its Dream Chaser lifting body vehicle for a new series of flight tests this fall and says assembly of the first space-capable version of the vehicle is on track for an orbital test flight in November 2016.

The company, which is competing with the Dream Chaser against capsule designs from Boeing and SpaceX for a contract to take astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, is more than 90% through the qualification program.

"We see our vehicle as more of an SUV for servicing of the ISS as well as to make low Earth orbit accessible for all of us," says Sierra Nevada Space Systems President Mark Sirangelo.

Speaking at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Space 2014 conference here, Sirangelo says, "We have entered critical design review [CDR] and have completed nine of the subsystems that needed to be done. We have passed a significant group of CDRs on various subsystems ranging from the actuator controls to the cabin full-scale mockup."

Overall Sierra has completed 30 milestones and is more than 92% of the way through the Commercial Crew integrated Capability (CCiCap) contract. Under a recently granted extension, Sierra now has until March 2015 to complete these milestones, rather than the end of August 2014 as previously scheduled.

Sierra also submitted certification documents for the Dream Chaser to NASA and "received the highest grades we could on it," Sirangelo says. The structures for two orbital test vehicles (OTVs) are under assembly at Lockheed Martin’s Michoud site in New Orleans, with final assembly due to take place at Lockheed’s Fort Worth site starting in late 2015. The first vehicle is booked for launch in November 2016 on an Atlas V and will be unmanned. However, two flights are required for certification and a crewed launch will follow in 2017.

Commenting on plans for the upcoming atmospheric flight tests at Edwards AFB, California, Sirangelo says, "We got so much good data [from the first flight on Oct. 26, 2013], we didn’t need to do a second flight, even though we had an issue with the vehicle." The vehicle overturned on landing after one of the main landing legs failed to deploy. This was later traced to contamination of the hydraulic fluid, he adds. For the upcoming tests, "We will do between two and five additional flights. A couple will be crewed. As a result of the vehicle being upgraded, we will be flying our orbital flight software, which will give us about a year’s worth of advancement on the vehicle." Flights are expected to last over a six- to nine-month period, he adds.

As part of its campaign to build program inertia in the run-up to the award of commercial crew contracts, possibly as early as the end of August, Sierra Nevada has also announced details of its expanded "Dream Chaser Dream Team." This includes "well over 30 companies in 32 states," says Sirangelo, who adds the team includes nine universities and nine NASA centers. Sierra Nevada also has recently signed a cooperation agreement with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to add to earlier international agreements with the European Space Agency and the German aerospace research agency DLR. These agreements are aimed at cooperative studies to explore potential LEO missions using the Dream Chaser.

Key U.S. industrial members of the team now include Lockheed Martin, United Launch Alliance, Draper Laboratory, Aerojet Rocketdyne, MacDonald Dettwiler & Associates, UTC Aerospace Systems, Jacobs, Moog Broad Reach, Siemens PLM Software and Southwest Research Institute.