Sierra Space Reveals Dream Chaser Space Plane Prior to Inaugural Flight to the ISS
On that day, Dream Chaser, a private spacecraft set to launch on its maiden trip to the International Space Station (ISS) later this year, was given a close-up inspection by NASA and the Colorado-based company Sierra Space.
Here in Sandusky, at NASA’s Neil Armstrong Test Facility, was the venue for the event. As they will be during launch, the robotic Dream Chaser and its cargo module, known as “Tenacity” and “Shooting Star,” respectively, were placed vertically. The two were about the length of a school bus, standing at a height of 55 feet (16.8 meters)!
“In order to convert bold dreams into bold action, it requires an enormous amount of tenacity, perseverance, confidence, determination and passion. And so we name our products after these emotional characteristics that get you through the hard times,” former NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, who’s now Sierra Space’s chief medical officer, said during Thursday’s event.
“Building Tenacity has been hard,” he added. “There’s been a lot of things that we’ve found collectively that didn’t always work right the first time. And we learned a lot that Tenacity has gotten us through the last six years, so there was no other name.”
NASA’s much awaited Tenacity debut will transport goods to the International Space Station. That unmanned demonstration mission will support low-Earth orbit economic growth while also advancing space science.
But before Tenacity and Shooting Star can set out on their first adventure, they have to pass a number of exams. That’s precisely what’s going on in Sandusky: the spacecraft are being tested at the Mechanical Vibration Facility at the NASA center. The vehicles are subjected to a variety of extreme conditions throughout these tests, including the jarring they will encounter during launch, which will take place atop a United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur rocket.
“All the testing we’ve done over the last six years as well developmental testing, all the autonomy and aerodynamics — the remaining testing is the environmental testing of what the vehicle will actually see on the launch pad during the Vulcan ride up,” Sierra Space CEO Tom Vice said on Thursday. “The testing is associated with replicating the environment of space, the vacuum of space; that’s going to be done in the thermal vac chamber.”
In order to undertake at least six ISS cargo delivery missions, Sierra Space was awarded a multi-year contract by NASA in 2016 for Commercial Resupply Services-2 (CRS2). This is a part of an ongoing effort to expand the choices for commercial resupply in low Earth orbit, according to a recent NASA announcement.
When it comes to moving supplies and personnel to the station, NASA and the commercial sector in the United States remain partners. For instance, back in 2014, the government inked agreements with Boeing and SpaceX for commercial crew. Elon Musk’s business is preparing for the eighth operational crewed mission to the International Space Station (ISS) after launching seven already. (Boeing, however, plans to fly its Starliner capsule on its maiden crewed test flight this spring.)
NASA authorities and proponents of exploration assert that the increasing participation of commercial entities in ISS replenishment could significantly increase science returns in the future.
“They’re continuing the lifeline for the research in zero g that the ISS is doing now and that we hope to do for the future, and we’re talking about new materials,” Marshburn said.
“A lot of people don’t realize that the cytoskeletal structure of both human cells and bacteria actually changes in weightlessness and changes how they react,” he added. “NASA has been able to develop new vaccines, crystal growth, all kinds of things you can do in weightlessness. I think we are just at the first few footsteps in a brand-new world with what we are going to be able to do once we start flying.”
Tenacity will land and be ready for another launch, while Shooting Star will live up to its name and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere after its one and only mission is completed. The spacecraft is, in fact, intended to complete up to fifteen missions.
On its maiden flight, Tenacity will carry over 7,800 pounds (3,540 kg) of cargo; but, on subsequent flights, it may be able to carry up to 11,500 pounds (5,215 kg). More than 3,500 pounds (1,590 kg) of cargo and experiment samples can be returned home with the spacecraft, and more than 8,700 pounds (3,950 kg) of trash can be disposed of in the cargo module upon reentry.
The designers of Dream Chaser set out to produce a highly dependable and reusable product.
“If we’re a company that wants to benefit life on Earth, we want to understand what the impact is on it,” Vice said. ” And so we designed this vehicle to use even a very special fuel; it’s hydrogen peroxide and refined kerosene, so that we don’t use really hazardous materials. And so it’s very unique — we think the ability to fly multiple times on a single vehicle allows us to have a smaller footprint every time we fly.”
Tenacity and Shooting Star are scheduled to launch from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida during the first part of this year. Following launch, teams from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser Mission Control Center in Louisville, Colorado will collaborate to oversee the flight, maneuver the spacecraft, and conduct in-orbit demonstrations to aid in system certification for upcoming missions.
The International Space Station Program’s transportation integration manager, Phil Dempsey, stated during the event on Thursday that “the research that is done on space station is tremendous, but broader than that, the learning of this huge community is increasing our ability to travel to and from space and learn from it.”
“There are people sitting at home, you ask them a question — why should I go do that, why should our tax dollars go to that? It’s not so much for any one individual reason, but the learning that we have as an industry and as mankind because of space travel and the difficulty of space travel,” Dempsey said. “It contributes to what we can do as an overall group of people here on the Earth as we look to do things off the Earth, or enhance work on the Earth or research that benefits us.”