They're created to be used 15 or more times and have autonomous launch, flight and landing capabilities, according to Sierra Nevada Corp.
For now, Sierra Nevada Corporation is working on the cargo version of Dream Chaser to serve a NASA Commercial Resupply Services 2 contract it received in 2016.
In previous tests this year a helicopter carried the Dream Chaser aloft but did not release it. Under that agreement, Sierra Nevada will fly at least six cargo delivery missions for NASA by 2024, agency officials said in the November 11 statement.
SNC's Dream Chaser was one of three competitors for NASA's "commercial crew" program, vying for NASA contracts to develop systems to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) through public-private partnerships (PPPs).
It is 30 feet (9 meters) long, about one quarter the length of a space shuttle and is a type of craft known as a "lifting body" in which aerodynamic lift is generated by its shape rather than traditional wings.
Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser spaceplane test article successfully performed a free-flight test at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in California. According to SNC, the test article included orbital vehicle avionics and flight software for the first time to provide orbital vehicle design validation. During a tow test, a pick-up truck drags the spacecraft up to 60 miles per hour, then releases it and lets the vehicle stop itself.
The Dream Chaser last flew in 2013, but a problem with its left landing gear meant it had a hard touchdown, which caused the plane to skid off the runway and sustain minor damage. Since then, Sierra Nevada has been modifying the Dream Chaser to just carry cargo. The latter two have been supplying the outpost since 2012 and 2014 respectively.
SNC already has signed an agreement with the United Launch Alliance (ULA) to send the first Dream Chaser into orbit aboard a ULA Atlas V rocket. Others include the SpaceX Dragon and Orbital ATK's Cygnus, which have both been flying missions for several years.
In total, the spacecraft is expect to be able to deliver more than 12,000 pounds (5,000 kilograms) of pressurized and unpressurized cargo to the ISS. "It is in our mind a signal that our program has moved another step closer to operations and orbital flight".
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