Sierra Nevada Corporation, a private space company, today announced that its mini-spacecraft, the Dream Chaser, will be launched on the future United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur missile. The Dream Chaser still has to see space, but once it's operational, it can carry cargo and scientific experiments for the astronauts aboard the International Space Station between 2021 and 2024.
Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) is one of three companies hired by NASA to contact the ISS on a regular basis to ensure the station is fully stocked. The freight missions are all part of NASA's Commercial Resupply Services program, one of the space agency's few space agency initiatives to shift space transportation to the private aerospace industry. The other two companies in the program, SpaceX and Northrop Grumman, have been bringing cargo to the station since 201
The Dream Chaser, developed since 2004, is largely similar to a miniature space shuttle. The plan is for the spacecraft to fly into orbit perpendicular to a rocket and then hit the ISS. The astronauts aboard the station then grab the spacecraft with their robotic arm and place it on an available docking port. Once the entire cargo it carries has been unloaded and the mission completed, the Dream Chaser separates from the ISS and re-enters the Earth's atmosphere. Unlike other space capsules that use parachutes to land, the Dream Chaser lands like an airplane and slides horizontally onto a runway.
The foreseeable future, "said Fatih CEO, CEO of SNC, during a press conference announcing the selection of Vulcan. For NASA, the Space Agency team even received initial development funding for work on a manned vehicle. Ultimately, however, NASA awarded contracts to SpaceX and Boeing to send people to the space station. For this reason, SNC has decided to revise the Dream Chaser so that it only carries freight. The company now has the task to launch a total of 12,000 pounds of freight on at least six replenishment missions for NASA. The company claims it will still be possible to fly people with Dream Chaser in the future.
In fact, SNC claims that the Cargo Dream Chaser could carry people if necessary, as it has some life-sustaining and temperature-controlled systems. "You could even kill people in an emergency today if you had to," said John Curry, Program Director for Dream Chaser's Freight Missions, at the press conference. "I'm not saying that NASA has asked us to, I'm just saying that the ability is there, so the bridge to a manned vehicle is not far."
SNC has other plans for its Dream Chaser, including the launch International payloads into space for the United Nations already in 2021. But there is still much to do before Dream Chaser shoots up on a volcanic rocket – first, the Vulcan must fly first – ULA has already begun to metal for the United Nations Rocket, which derives from the company's already operational Atlas V. The first flight, however, is scheduled to take place only in 2021. The Dream Chaser will fly the Vulcan on the second flight of all time.  "I was on from the first moment Fan and supporter and cheerleader of this amazing vehicle, "said ULA CEO Tory Bruno at today's press conference," and so it's really exciting to make this commercial debut with Vulcans
In the meantime, SNC tested the Dream Chaser and tested the vehicle. The second free flight in 2017 shows that the spacecraft can successfully land from a super height. The flight was much more successful than the first test in 2013, when the vehicle's landing gear failed and the spacecraft slid off the runway as it touched down. Further tests are planned for the coming years as SNC prepares for the first launch of the Dream Chaser.
Update Aug. 14, 15:15 ET: This article has been updated to include additional information from an SNC press conference.