Sierra Nevada has revealed details of its test plans for the Dream Chaser at Spaceflight Now.

Sierra Nevada expects to begin captive-carry tests of the Dream Chaser test article from a Sikorsky S-64  Skycrane helicopter soon, perhaps before the end of May. The first captive-carry tests will take place in Colorado. The test article will be shipped to California this summer for additional captive carry tests leading to drop tests and automated landings at Edward Air Force base. The drop tests will also use a helicopter, either a CH-53 Sea Stallion or CH-47 Chinook.

This would lead to manual landing tests with a suborbital flight article in 2014, followed by automated flights to orbit in 2015 and crewed orbital flights in 2016.

Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser test article

The 2014 suborbital vehicle suggests some interesting possibilities. A suborbital Dream Chaser might provide a backup for Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two, if that program runs into trouble.

Dream Chaser is designed to seat seven, which is very similar to SpaceShip Two’s eight-person seating. Like SpaceShip Two, the suborbital Dream Chaser would be carried aloft by a mothership (or possibly towed aloft, like a glider). So, the flight experience would be very similar.

Sierra Nevada is already building the hybrid rocket motor for SpaceShip Two, so it should have the capacity to produce a large number of motors by 2014. (On the other hand, the fact that SpaceShip Two and Dream Chaser use a similar motor from the same manufacturer means the two vehicles have a common failure mode, which would tend to reduce Dream Chaser’s ability to serve as a backup.)

A suborbital Dream Chaser might also serve as a backup for Sierra Nevada’s business plans, if NASA chooses not to continue its support of the orbital program under the Commercial Crew Development (CCDEV) program. That outcomes seems to be a likely possibility at the moment, since Congressmen in both the House and Senate are currently pressuring NASA to reduce the number of CCDEV competitors to a sole selection.

Sierra Nevada is saying nothing about such plans publicly. That is not surprising, since Sierra Nevada is a major subcontractor on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two and it is no secret that Virgin’s contracts contain non-compete clauses. That could change, however, if the SpaceShip Two development program runs into trouble. It’s also possible Virgin might welcome a new suborbital airframe developer to reduce its dependence on Scaled Composites as a sole supplier.

Written by Astro1 on May 10th, 2012 , Citizen Exploration, Sierra Nevada, Virgin Galactic

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    Dream Chaser commented

    Its great the HL-20 is being developed. Its been one of my favorite design and at long last its coming into fruition. I wish Sierra Nevada good luck with their endeavours.

    July 30, 2012 at 9:12 am