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NASA tests Dream Chaser

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NASA tests Dream Chaser before its maiden flight.

After testing at NASA’s Neil Armstrong Test Facility, formerly known as Plum Brook Station, in Ohio, Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser vehicle is one step closer to flight, no later than the first half of 2024.

A small number of media representatives, including NSF, were granted access to the vibration testing room where the vehicle underwent its final testing.

Tenacity, the first Dream Chaser spacecraft slated to launch into orbit, was connected to its cargo module, Shooting Star, for the first time. Sierra Space claims that the cargo module has interior space for 4,000 kilograms (9,000 pounds) of payload. Three external attachment points are also included for extra baggage or experiments.

This year, the spacecraft will be launched on its inaugural voyage to the International Space Station (ISS) on a United Launch Alliance Vulcan rocket with the same configuration.

As part of the second round of Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-2) contracts, Dream Chaser was chosen by NASA to routinely deliver supplies, science, and other items to the International Space Station. Under that arrangement, the winged spacecraft will be joining SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon and Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus vehicle.

Additionally, the vehicle will be the second resupply vessel with down mass capability, which enables it to bring research samples and time-sensitive science experiments back to Earth. Tenacity is expected to land at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida’s Launch and Landing Facility after its ISS mission. The business has also talked about landing operations at California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base and future plans to land at additional airports.

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Not only is there a lot of mass going up and down, but Phil Dempsey from NASA’s ISS program is enthusiastic about the way that mass is coming back.

Dream Chaser will carry more than 7,800 pounds of cargo on its first 45-day journey, and as we learn more about the vehicle’s capabilities, we may be able to raise that amount on subsequent missions characteristics,” Dempsey stated. “I must admit that I’m a little excited about this, not only because it’s a personal thrill for me to see a winged vehicle land on the runway and return to the space station, but also because I work for a company that is responsible for transporting over 3,000 pounds of cargo and research back at the same time.”

Dempsey brought up the space shuttle, which helped construct the orbiting laboratory and transport people and goods to and from the International Space Station (ISS) until the program’s 2011 retirement.

Tenacity is now housed inside the facility for mechanical vibration.

Dr. James Kenyon, director of NASA Glenn, stated, “We’ve been testing the spacecraft’s vibration for the past few weeks, taking it in both the horizontal and vertical directions.” “This enables us to replicate the vibration environment that the spacecraft will encounter both during launch and as it approaches the end of its mission and begins to re-enter the atmosphere.”

The vehicle will now go to NASA Glenn’s In-Space Propulsion Facility, which is located nearby, when the vibration testing is over. This is the only facility in the world, according to NASA, that can test rockets and full-scale upper stage launch vehicles in a space environment.

“We will lower the pressure and temperature for Dream Chaser to the extremely low levels that the spacecraft will encounter upon entering orbit,” Kenyon declared. The spacecraft will then be placed in a simulation of the solar heating environment it would encounter while in orbit, thanks to the usage of a dynamic heating element. By doing these ground tests, we will be able to lower program risk and find and fix problems before launch.

After that, the vehicle will be relocated to the Kennedy Space Center so that launch preparations may begin.

Sierra Space has been training astronauts on the ins and outs of the spacecraft and how to operate it in orbit prior to its launch.

Together, we’ve already begun preparing our astronauts to observe Dream Chaser’s experience at the International Space Station, according to Dempsey. “We have been preparing for cooperative operations, and we are carrying that out as our engineers collaborate with the Sierra Space team to finalize the integration, testing, and preparedness of this vehicle.”

When questioned, Sierra Space representatives stated that their organization and NASA jointly decide how many ISS missions to conduct.

CEO of Sierra Space Tom Vice stated, “As we move forward looking to get through the rest of the decade, we’ll take a look at the capabilities as well as the ISS needs and go determine them.” “Therefore, we don’t fly above what the space station requires, but there’s no set plan for the cadence that we need beyond that.”

Still, the business intends to operate Tenacity on several trips in addition to the second car, Reverence, which is already being built.

As stated by Vice, “we think we’re going to be well above that, but we designed [each vehicle] for 15 missions.” “We think we can handle it not just for NASA, but also in the long run in terms of how we think about commercialization of the workforce. Tenacity is the first, and Reverence is going to the factory.”

According to Sierra Space, Tenacity will be flown on the first four flights, while Reverence will make its debut on flight five.

The business is also considering starting from sites outside of the US.

“There have been numerous conversations regarding taking off from Japan and landing at the airport, taking off from other parts of the world with suitable launch latitudes, and returning to these runways,” Vice stated. It offers us tremendous influence over how we see launching this new space era. It cannot originate from only one or two US locations. It must be worldwide.

Vice observed that as low-Earth orbit commerce gains traction and becomes more accessible, we are entering what he terms the “orbital age.”

According to Vice, “the underlying technologies that are commercializing low-Earth orbit are driving an existential revolution known as the orbital age, connecting in new ways the surface of our planet with 250 miles above our head.” “Furnishing factories in microgravity will enable our cities and communities to expand into space, with companies operating in every segment of the biotech and industrial sectors.”

“During the orbital era, the human population in space will attain a critical mass and establish a lasting presence for global civilizations, perpetuating the remarkable leadership that NASA has exhibited on the International Space Station for countless years.” Together, Sierra Space and NASA travel to space to improve life on Earth.

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