Sierra Nevada spacecraft completes first test flight in 4 years

Sierra Nevada Corp’s Dream Chaser lands on Edwards Air Force Base in California. Spacecraft went through preparations for flight at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center. Credits NASA  Carla Thomas

But a year ago, NASA awarded a second round of contracts, in order to cover cargo shipments to the ISS from 2019 through 2024.

If Sierra Nevada is going to fulfill supply missions for the International Space Station and the United Nations, it'll have to prove that its Dream Chaser spacecraft is ready to fly... and it just took a big step in that direction. It's an important milestone in the Dream Chaser's development, as Sierra Nevada readies the plane for spaceflight. Sierra Nevada representatives announced on Twitter Saturday. Right now, two companies - SpaceX and Orbital ATK - hold contracts with NASA to periodically resupply the station through 2018. (5,500 kilograms) of cargo to the International Space Station.

"The lifting-body design gives Dream Chaser a higher lift-to-drag ratio and allows for greater cross-range landing capability, meaning the landing zone (or places where it can land) is greatly increased", said the company. The company has revealed that Dream Chaser completed a glide test flight on November 11th, launching from a helicopter and landing at California's Edwards Air Force Base.

Originally, Sierra Nevada had hoped its Dream Chaser would carry astronauts, and not just cargo, to the ISS. "The testing will validate the aerodynamic properties, flight software and control system performance of the Dream Chaser".

This weekend's free-flight test was the second one that Sierra Nevada has done with Dream Chaser. The company promised to release more test flight details, images and video on Monday (Nov. 13). The vehicle flew a similar glide flight in October 2013, which the company and NASA considered successful despite a landing gear failure that caused the vehicle to skid off the runway after landing.

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