Sierra Nevada Corporation is developing the Dream Chaser, an orbital lifting-body spacecraft to be launched by an Atlas V rocket. Sierra Nevada plans to use Dream Chaser to provide commercial crew and cargo services to the International Space Station and to transport citizen space explorers. In 2011, the company received $80 million in funding under NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Development (CCDEV) 2 program. With that funding, Sierra Nevada has constructed an atmospheric test vehicle which it plans to drop test in 2012.
Dream Chaser was derived from the HL-20 lifting body, which NASA studied in the 1980′s as a possible design for a Personnel Launch System (PLS) to supplement or replace the Space Shuttle. Sierra Nevada produced the following video, which shows how HL-20 evolved into Dream Chaser.
This corporate video only tells part of the story. NASA’s HL-20 design was itself derived from an earlier, Russian design. The MiG-105 Spiral was the Soviet equivalent of the USAF ‘s X-20 DynaSoar, a military spaceplane being developing during the Cold War. Like the X-20 DynaSoar, the Spiral never made it into space. The Soviet Union did build and fly an atmospheric test version, though. The following video shows some of the flight tests and gives a preview of what we may see Dream Chaser doing later this year.