Dream Chaser mini-shuttle set to take flight at last

Spaceplane to be shipped to Kennedy Space Center for launch on a Vulcan Centaur

Sierra Space's Dream Chaser spaceplane is finally set to launch in 2024 after completing its latest set of tests at NASA's Neil Armstrong Test Facility.

Dream Chaser

Dream Chaser – Pic: Sierra Nevada

The Dream Chaser spaceplane, named Tenacity, and its Shooting Star cargo companion, is to be shipped to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for a final round of checks before integration ahead of its inaugural launch atop ULA's second Vulcan Centaur rocket.

It's been a while coming. The spaceplane was one of a trio of vehicles selected for NASA's $14 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-2) contract in 2016. The others, SpaceX's Dragon and the Cygnus from Orbital ATK (acquired in 2018 by Northrop Grumman), were already operational by then, but this will be the first launch into space for Tenacity.

Dream Chaser is a reusable, uncrewed cargo freighter capable of gliding back to a runway landing. It is accompanied by an expendable Shooting Star module to carry additional pressurized and unpressurized cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). The Shooting Star can also be loaded with waste to burn up in the atmosphere.

Sierra Space harbors hope that the Dream Chaser will evolve into a crewed spacecraft, but its immediate task is dealing with the ISS resupply missions for which it has been contracted. A second spaceplane, named Reverence, is currently in production.

Sierra Space CEO Tom Vice said in a statement, "Successful completion of an incredibly rigorous environmental testing campaign in close partnership with NASA is a significant milestone and puts Dream Chaser on track for operations later this year."

Vice did not give a specific launch date, although considering that the spacecraft still has to make it to Kennedy Space Center for integration, a launch in the second half of 2024 would seem likely. Quite a delay from an expected start of operations in 2021.

While Tenacity has suffered its fair share of delays, the difficulties experienced by ULA in getting the first Vulcan Centaur off the pad have not helped matters.

After thermal vacuum testing and spending time on the world's most powerful spacecraft shaker table to simulate the environment of a launch on a Vulcan Centaur rocket, the Tenacity will undergo its final environmental tests in the Space Systems Processing Facility at KSC. These will include acoustic testing, electromagnetic interference testing and compatibility testing. ®

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