Dream Chaser Spaceplane Program of SNC (Sierra Nevada Corporation)
The Dream Chaser Cargo System is an American reusable lifting body spaceplane developed , owned and operated by Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Space Systems with HQs in Sparks, Nevada, USA. Although design, manufacturing and assembly is based in Louisville, Colorado, SNC has assembled a world-class “Dream Team” of aerospace companies, NASA centers, universities and international partners all collaborating to ensure the Dream Chaser is the safest, most reliable spacecraft in the world. 1)
SNC's Dream Chaser spaceplane is a multi-mission space utility vehicle designed for transporting crew and cargo to low-Earth orbit (LEO) destinations such as the International Space Station. Originally intended as a crewed vehicle, the Dream Chaser Space System, to be produced after the cargo variant is operational, is capable of carrying up to seven people and cargo to and from low Earth orbit.
NASA selected the Dream Chaser spaceplane under the CRS-2 (Commercial Resupply Service-2) contract to provide cargo delivery, return and disposal service for the space station. Dream Chaser will carry critical supplies like food, water, and science experiments and returns to Earth with a gentle runway landing. The spacecraft will provide a minimum of six cargo missions to and from the space station starting in fall 2021.
The Dream Chaser cargo system is designed to deliver up to 5,500 kg of pressurized and unpressurized cargo to the space station, including food, water, supplies and science experiments. The Dream Chaser can gently return critical cargo with a runway landing at less than 1.5 g’s. After leaving the space station, the Dream Chaser can also dispose of trash. The vehicle is designed for high reusability, reducing overall cost and a quick turnaround between missions. The ability to launch on top of multiple launch vehicles and land at a wide variety of runways makes Dream Chaser a flexible option for reliable transportation.
Owned by Chairwoman and President Eren Ozmen and CEO Fatih Ozmen, SNC is a trusted leader in solving the world’s toughest challenges through advanced engineering technologies in Space Systems, Commercial Solutions, and National Security and Defense.
Dream Chaser features include:
• Lifting-body spacecraft
• Autonomous launch, flight & landing capabilities
• 15 + times reusability
• Low, 1.5 g atmospheric entry
• Gentle runway landing compatible with runways worldwide
• Rapid access to crew or cargo upon landing.
• The Dream Chaser spacecraft has a gross mass of 9,000 kg, a length of 9 m, a span of 7 m (4.5 m with folded wings) and a height of 2 m. Up to 5,500 kg of payload can be transported to the ISS.
Figure 1: Photo of the SNC Dream Chaser on the runway (image credit: SNC)
• November 18, 2020: United Launch Alliance’s new rocket, the Vulcan Centaur, has to fly at least twice before it is certified by the U.S. Space Force to launch national security satellites starting in fiscal year 2022. 2)
- ULA said Vulcan’s first launch in 2021 will be a lunar lander for Astrobotic, a NASA contractor that will deliver payloads to the moon. The second flight also planned for 2021 was to carry Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station.
- Sierra Nevada announced Nov. 17 that the first flight of the Dream Chaser spacecraft to the ISS will slip to 2022 due to development delays caused by the pandemic.
- ULA said the delay in Dream Chaser’s first mission will not prevent Vulcan from getting certified on time for its first national security mission in 2022.
- “We continue to work with our customer Astrobotic for Vulcan Centaur’s first flight and look forward to our initial launch in 2021,” ULA spokeswoman Jessica Rye told SpaceNews. The Dream Chaser timeline still “supports our DoD Phase 2 certification schedule.”
- “ULA’s goal for Vulcan Centaur development is to ensure we are ready to support our customers’ missions and launch dates whenever they are prepared to launch,” Rye said.
- ULA and SpaceX are the two launch providers selected by the Space Force for the National Security Space Launch Phase 2 launch service procurement. On Aug. 7 ULA was awarded the first Phase 2 contract to launch two missions — one in the second quarter and the other in the fourth quarter fiscal year 2022.
- Astrobotic and Sierra Nevada are the only two publicly announced customers for Vulcan. ULA did not say if it has another customer lined up for Vulcan’s second flight if Dream Chaser is not ready in 2022.
- Under the terms of the Phase 2 procurement, if Vulcan is not certified on time, ULA will be allowed to offer the Atlas 5 as a substitute.
• November 18, 2020: Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) says the first flight of its Dream Chaser spacecraft to the International Space Station is now planned for 2022 after development delays caused by the pandemic. 3)
- During a media briefing Nov. 17, SNC executives said that despite the near-term delays in assembly of the lifting-body cargo spacecraft, they were still focused on a long-term plan that includes using cargo and crew versions of Dream Chaser to support a commercial space station by the end of the decade.
- The company had previously planned a first flight of Dream Chaser, the first of six under a Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA to transport cargo to and from the International Space Station, in late 2021. But at the briefing, company officials said that mission is now scheduled for some time in 2022.
- ”COVID has definitely played a role” in that delay, said Steve Lindsey, senior vice president for strategy at SNC Space Systems. One example he gave involved structural testing of the spacecraft’s cargo module at a contractor’s facility in San Diego. COVID-related restrictions prevented SNC engineers from being on site at that facility to oversee the tests.
- SNC developed a workaround by using a mission control center it developed for Dream Chaser in Colorado so those engineers could remotely oversee those tests. “That worked great. Unfortunately, it took probably three or four times as long as it should have,” he said.
- A related problem, he said, involves suppliers who have had to suspend operations because of COVID-19 outbreaks at their facilities. There have also been technical challenges with Dream Chaser, although he did not go into details about specific issues. “All of those things have conspired to move the date a little bit,” he said.
- Lindsey wasn’t more specific about a launch date other than some time in 2022. A specific date, he said, will depend on both when the vehicle is ready as well as NASA’s “traffic model” for visiting vehicles, which include Dream Chaser as well as other cargo and crew spacecraft.
- In addition to its NASA cargo contract, the company continues to seek other customers for the vehicle while retaining the option for a crewed version. “There is a lot of interest out there. There’s a lot of folks watching our progress,” he said. “We believe the market demand is out there.” He didn’t identify any customers beyond the United Nations’ Office for Outer Space Affairs, which previously announced an agreement with SNC for a Dream Chaser mission that would carry experiments from member countries.
- SNC is looking to move beyond Dream Chaser to commercial space stations that could be supported by cargo and crewed versions of Dream Chaser. Janet Kavandi, the company’s new executive vice president for space systems, showed an illustration of a space station incorporating inflatable modules the company has been developing as part of NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships program.
- “This is our vision for the future,” she said. “We have visions for how to build platforms in space that can be built commercially” for use in applications ranging from scientific research to tourism.
- Company officials didn’t go into depth about their plans for a commercial station, but Kavandi billed it as an “easy transition” from the ISS. Lindsey suggested the company will pursue a future NASA solicitation to provide funding for a commercial space station, one that has been on hold in part because of a lack of funding for the agency’s overall low Earth orbit commercialization plans.
- Those NASA plans foresee a gradual transition by the agency from the ISS to commercial platforms. Lindsey said he expected the ISS to operate to 2028 or 2030, by which time commercial successors like that proposed by SNC will be in place to handle research activities currently done on the ISS. “I think the timeframe will be the end of the 2020s, going into 2030, when that happens,” he said.
Figure 2: A concept by Sierra Nevada Corp. for a commercial space station using inflatable module technology it is developing and serviced by Dream Chaser spacecraft (image credit: SNC)
• August 18, 2020: Colorado-based Sierra Nevada Corp. aims to complete its first operational Dream Chaser space plane by March to provide cargo trips to the International Space Station. 4)
- The spacecraft, which resembles a small space shuttle, originally was proposed to carry astronauts, but Sierra Nevada so far only has NASA contracts for cargo. Company executives continue to say they believe Dream Chaser will carry people someday. The company updates designs for Dream Chaser as NASA's commercial crew program updates its requirements.
- "We've never stopped trying to move that forward, although we are not currently funded by NASA for crew missions," said John Roth, vice president of business development at the company, told UPI last week.
- Sierra Nevada plans Dream Chaser's first cargo mission for late 2021, to be launched aboard a United Launch Alliance rocket. Since it isn't carrying people, no test flights beyond short drops from aircraft completed in 2013 and 2017 are required, Roth said.
- "NASA will look at our ability to control the vehicle and rendezvous with the station," Roth said.
- Sierra Nevada in 2014 lost a competition for a multibillion-dollar astronaut contract to SpaceX and Boeing in NASA's Commercial Crew Program, but has won over $2 billion in NASA contracts to develop Dream Chaser as a cargo vessel.
- SpaceX on 2 August 2020 completed the first successful flight of its Crew Dragon capsule to the space station and back with astronauts on board.
- Boeing's first attempt to fly its Starliner capsule to the space station failed in December. The company plans to try the test flight again later this year.
- Dream Chaser would return to Earth under its own power. A prototype has been tested by dropping it from an aircraft, but it has yet to launch as intended on a rocket sent into space.
- Sierra Nevada won NASA contracts for two cargo trips, Roth said. The company has reserved six launches on ULA's new Vulcan Centaur rocket, which is being developed.
- Dream Chaser should be more appealing, someday, to space tourists since it resembles a plane and doesn't land with a jolt under parachutes like a space capsule, Roth said.
- Sierra Nevada plans to develop an entire business line around Dream Chaser, including space tourism, said Chris Quilty, an analyst with St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Quilty Analytics.
- "Losing the astronaut contract was a disappointment, but getting the cargo contract, that was a lifeline for Dream Chaser," Quilty said. "Unlike a capsule, this can touch down on a runway, and NASA or other scientists can retrieve time-sensitive payloads immediately."
- Sierra Nevada still has time to grab NASA's attention again if Boeing doesn't perform well on its next test flight, said Marco Caceres, senior space analyst at Washington D.C.-based Teal Group.
- "Their relationship with NASA is solid, and that's a good thing," Caceres said. "Boeing was a legacy supplier, and [NASA] really couldn't say no to SpaceX."
- Ultimately, safety and reliability will determine who flies spacecraft with people on board, he said.
- Sierra Nevada challenged NASA's decision to cut it out of the astronaut program. But a government watchdog rejected the challenge in 2018.
- NASA also recognized several favorable features in the Sierra Nevada and SpaceX proposals, but ultimately concluded that SpaceX's lower price made it a better value than the proposal submitted by Sierra Nevada," the summary of the decision said.
• May 01, 2020: Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), the global aerospace and national security leader owned by Eren and Fatih Ozmen, marked National Space Day by announcing the name of its first orbital vehicle set to launch under contract with NASA: Dream Chaser Tenacity. “Tenacity is in SNC’s DNA,” said SNC Chairwoman and President Eren Ozmen. 5)
- “Every critical moment in SNC’s history of innovation has called for tenacity, in overcoming challenges in order to support and protect explorers and heroes. As the nation faces this current challenge, we want this vehicle to be a beacon of hope that American ingenuity – and tenacity – will bring brighter days ahead.”
- SNC’s Dream Chaser spacecraft, known as “America’s Spaceplane™,” is the world’s only non-capsule, commercial spacecraft and is capable of a runway landing. Under a NASA contract, it will perform cargo delivery and disposal services to and from the International Space Station on at least six NASA missions.
- Dream Chaser is a story of grit and tenacity on the part of SNC’s team,” said John Curry, SNC’s Program Director for Dream Chaser. “NASA’s vision and ours for a next gen space shuttle with a gentle runway landing has weathered tough economic and budget resources and competing visions. The team and engineers working on Dream Chaser have believed in its superior design, knowing tenacity would lead to Dream Chaser flying in space and returning humans and science back to Earth safely.”
- NASA this week selected the Dynetics team, of which SNC is an integral part, to support its Artemis mission to the moon. SNC is leading development of the crew module for NASA’s Human Landing System (HLS) program, which will ferry astronauts and supplies to and from the moon’s surface. The program is designed to provide new science and material resources and leverage the moon as a proving ground for future Mars missions. NASA’s goal is to land astronauts on the moon by 2024 and establish sustainable missions by 2028.
Figure 3: Illustration of the SNC Dream Chaser Tenacity (image credit: SNC)
• April 21, 2020: SNC uncrated both wings for its Dream Chaser spaceplane this month at the company’s Louisville, Colorado production facility. The wings’ arrival kicks off the much-anticipated integration phase of a beautiful and critical differentiator for Dream Chaser, the world’s only spaceplane owned by a private company and under contract with NASA. 6)
- The arrival kicks off the integration of the complex Wing Deployment System (WDS) as part of the continued assembly and integration of the vehicle. With their innovative folding design, the wings are stowed in the fairing ahead of launch. After the launch vehicle separates, the WDS deploys the wings and locks them into place. Dream Chaser’s steeply angled wings function as stabilizers for the lift generated by the body of the vehicle.
- “The wings for Dream Chaser presented an interesting design challenge,” said Dream Chaser program director John Curry. “Not only must they survive in low-Earth orbit like a satellite, but they need to be operational in Earth’s atmosphere, like an aircraft.” Just like the structural body for Dream Chaser, the wings were manufactured by Lockheed Martin in Texas, a subcontractor to SNC, and are single bonded composite structures. This state-of-the-art technology saves weight without compromising strength and stiffness.
Figure 4: Photo of SNC's arrival of both wings for its Dream Chaser spaceplane (image credit: SNC)
• November 19, 2019: Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), the global aerospace and national security leader owned by Eren and Fatih Ozmen, delivered a test version of its Shooting Star cargo module to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for testing ahead of its planned launch with SNC’s Dream Chaser® spacecraft in 2021. 7)
Figure 5: Shooting Star is a 15-foot attachment to Dream Chaser that will be used on NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract to provide extra storage for payloads and to facilitate cargo disposal upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere (image credit: SNC)
- “With the addition of Shooting Star we add a capability for NASA, sending even more critical science, food and cargo to the International Space Station, and contributing to the important work the astronauts are doing every day,” said Eren Ozmen, SNC’s Chairwoman and President.
- Dream Chaser will execute its first of at least six launches to the International Space Station in fall of 2021 under the CRS-2 contract. The cargo module will carry an additional 10,000 pounds of pressurized and unpressurized payloads to the International Space Station.
- A key capability for Dream Chaser is performing cargo disposal upon re-entry. SNC’s Shooting Star cargo modules will burn up in the earth’s atmosphere, discarding unwanted material offloaded from the International Space Station.
- “Shooting Star’s ability to deliver additional cargo and provide a disposal service makes it and Dream Chaser extremely effective and versatile,” said former NASA space shuttle commander and retired USAF pilot Steve Lindsey, now senior vice president of strategy for SNC’s Space Systems business area.
- For additional versatility, Shooting Star can support logistics services to other LEO destinations, including future commercial outposts, and for the lunar Gateway. SNC has also developed a concept for a free flying version that can act as a satellite to carry large payloads, with high-power capacity.
• August 14, 2019: SNC selected United Launch Alliance (ULA) as the launch vehicle provider for the Dream Chaser® spacecraft’s six NASA missions to the International Space Station. The Dream Chaser will launch aboard ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rockets for its cargo resupply and return services to the space station, starting in 2021. 8)
- “Dream Chaser can launch from any conventional rocket so we had great options,” said SNC CEO Fatih Ozmen. “SNC selected ULA because of our strong collaboration on the Dream Chaser program, their proven safety record and on-time performance. This is bringing America’s spaceplane and America’s rocket together for best-of-breed innovation and exploration.”
- Under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract, the Dream Chaser will deliver more than 12,000 pounds of pressurized and unpressurized cargo to the space station and remains attached for up to 75 days as an orbiting laboratory. Once the mated mission is complete, the Dream Chaser disposes about 7,000 pounds of space station trash and returns large quantities of critical science, accessible within minutes after a gentle runway landing.
Figure 6: Illustration of the SNC Dream Chaser on a ULA Vulcan Centaur Rocket (image credit: SNC)
• July 25, 2016: Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has passed the second Integration Certification Milestone under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract. NASA assessed and fully approved SNC’s detailed approach for getting the Dream Chaser Cargo System to the International Space Station (ISS). SNC’s approved strategy demonstrates a thorough understanding of design requirements and available resources on both a system and subsystem level. Dream Chaser will provide a minimum of six cargo delivery missions to and from the ISS between 2019 and 2024. The first milestone was passed several weeks ago and outlined technical, logistic and schedule procedures for the program. 9)
• May 25, 2017: SNC successfully passed the third integration milestone for the Dream Chaser program under the NASA Commercial Resupply Services (CRS2) program, bringing it a major step closer to providing resupply services to the ISS (International Space Station). 10)
- CRS2 Integration Review #3 (IR3) confirmed SNC’s Dream Chaser Cargo System design meets NASA’s key requirements and maximizes probability of mission success during future flights. The spacecraft is scheduled for at least six missions between 2019 and 2024. The reliability of the Dream Chaser design was also thoroughly reviewed as part of NASA’s Phase I Safety Review Process, which successfully demonstrated safety and mission assurance criteria. The reviews covered all stages of mission operations including ground, launch, flight and landing.
- “Passing the third CRS2 integration milestone is a really big deal for the program and its future,” said Steve Lindsey, vice president of Space Exploration Systems for SNC’s Space Systems business area. “We are proud of this accomplishment and are well on our way towards completing the next critical milestone and the remaining developmental phases. It’s a great feeling to be executing all our milestones on schedule and to be moving forward to our operational flight.”
- The spacecraft’s unique cargo design is capable to transport 5,500 kg of cargo mass to the ISS on each mission. In addition, a significant amount of cargo, almost 2,000 kg is directly returned from the ISS to a gentle runway landing at a pinpoint location. Dream Chaser’s all non-toxic systems design allows personnel to simply walk up to the vehicle after landing, providing immediate access to time-critical science as soon as the wheels stop.
- The complex and thorough review process found no significant design, build or system issues and underscored the Dream Chaser’s readiness for flight.
• In January 2016, NASA competitively selected SNC (Sierra Nevada Corporation) Space Systems to receive a multi-year contract to provide cargo delivery, return and disposal services for the ISS. SNC received a CRS2 (Commercial Resupply Services 2) contract, to fulfill a minimum of six cargo delivery service missions to and from the ISS utilizing SNC’s Dream Chaser Cargo System. 11)
- NASA’s selection of SNC for the CRS2 program will enable spacecraft reusability and runway landings for United States’ cargo delivery and access to the ISS starting in 2019 through 2024.
- SNC is the owner and prime operator of the reusable Dream Chaser spacecraft, which has been in development for over 10 years, including six years as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and leverages over 40 years of NASA development and space shuttle heritage.
- Unlike the Cygnus (Oribital ATK) which burns up on reentry and Dragon(SpaceX) which lands via parachutes, the reusable Dream Chaser is capable of low-g reentry and runway landings. This is very beneficial for sensitive scientific experiments and allows much quicker access by researchers to time critical cargo.
Figure 7: SNC's Dream Chaser Spacecraft and Cargo Module attached to the ISS (image credit: SNC)
1) ”Dream Chaser® - America's Spaceplane™,” SNC, URL: https://www.sncorp.com
Sandra Erwin, ”ULA: Dream Chaser schedule slip not a setback to
Vulcan certification,” SpaceNews, 18 November 2020, URL: https://spacenews.com/
3) Jeff Foust, ”First Dream Chaser mission slips to 2022,” SpaceNews, 18 November 2020, URL: https://spacenews.com/first-dream-chaser-mission-slips-to-2022/
Paul Brinkmann, ”Sierra Nevada aims to complete Dream Chaser
space plane in March,” Space Daily, 18 August 2020, URL: https://www.spacedaily.com/reports/
SNC’s “Dream Chaser Tenacity”: First Orbital Vehicle
of Dream Chaser® Spaceplane Fleet Reflects National Mood,”
SNC News Release, 01 May 2020, URL: https://www.sncorp.com
6) ”SNC’s Dream Chaser® Spaceplane Wings Arrive in Colorado,” SNC, 21 April 2020, URL: https://www.sncorp.com/press-releases/snc-dream-chaser-wing-arrival/
7) ”SNC’s “Shooting Star” Arrives at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center,” SNC Press Release, 19 November 2029, URL: https://www.sncorp.com/press-releases/snc-shooting-star-arrives-nasa-kennedy-space-center/
8) ”SNC Selects ULA for Dream Chaser® Spacecraft Launches,” SNC Press Release, 14 August 2019, URL: https://www.sncorp.com/press-releases/snc-ula-dream-chaser-launch-announcement/
10) ”Dream Chaser® Spacecraft Passes Major Milestone,” SNC, May 25, 2017, URL: https://www.sncorp.com/press-releases/snc-dc-crs2-milestone-3/
The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (firstname.lastname@example.org).