Earlier this year, NASA selected US company, Sierra Nevada Space Corporation’s (SNC) Space Systems, to provide cargo delivery, return and disposal solutions for the International Space Station.
The multi-year contract would see SNC’s ‘Dream Chaser’ undertaking at least six cargo delivery missions to the space station, and would provide NASA with direct access to the ISS until 2024.
The Dream Chaser Cargo System offers a safe, reliable and affordable solution for ISS cargo delivery, ensuring the sustainability of the space station for years to come. Unlike cargo deliveries of recent years, the Dream Chaser would be a reusable spacecraft, taking design inspiration from the space shuttles before it. This would enable the spacecraft to re-enter the atmosphere and land on regular runways, cutting the cost of deliveries, and allowing for the safe return of pressurised and fragile cargo.
We can expect to see Dream Chaser taking to the skies within a few short years, as its innovative, folded wing design will allow it to fit inside current launch vehicles, making it compatible with a variety of existing rockets, and assuring access to space. Once fully developed, the space plane will be capable of delivering 5,500kg of pressurised and unpressurised cargo to the ISS. This, along with the spacecraft’s reusability, will reduce the cost of commercial deliveries, ensuring they can continue to supply the space station for many years.
The Dream Chaser programme, based in Louisville Colorado, is also committed to promoting clean and sustainable space flight, and ensures all propellants and consumables on board the craft re non-toxic, making it the first vehicle in history to achieve this level of environmental responsibility.
Since the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle fleet in July 2011, the only human access to the ISS has been via the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, on board a Soyuz spacecraft. Currently the Soyuz is the safest and most reliable way to transport people to and from low orbit, however the development of the Dream Chaser Space System could well see a rekindling of the space shuttle’s glory days. Currently in the planning stages, this human-rated version of the spacecraft would carry two to seven people into orbit, and could even fly autonomously if needed. Unlike the flawed space shuttles, the Dream Chaser systems would burn non-volatile, ethanol-based fuels, meaning they could be handled immediately after landing, and would feature highly advanced thermal protection systems. These tile coverings will protect the spacecraft on re-entry into the atmosphere, and would address several failings of the previous shuttle fleet.
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