Dream Chaser glide test expected soon

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WASHINGTON — Sierra Nevada Corporation is expected to perform a second glide test of its Dream Chaser vehicle as soon as next week, according to comments from a NASA official.

Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said at a House Science Committee hearing Nov. 9 that the glide flight of the uncrewed vehicle, at Edwards Air Force Base in California, was planned for Nov. 14.

“They have a drop test on the 14th of this month to look at their vehicle coming back,” he said when asked about the company’s work by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) at the hearing.

A company, in a statement to SpaceNews, didn’t confirm the date Gerstenmaier provided during the hearing, but said that preparations for the glide flight are continuing. “We are still on schedule for a free-flight test this year,” the company said, with the timing depending on factors such as availability of helicopters used to support the test as well as access to NASA and Air Force facilities.

The glide flight will be the second for this vehicle, an engineering test article originally developed as part of Sierra Nevada Corp.’s commercial crew activities. On the first flight, in October 2013, a helicopter released the Dream Chaser at an altitude of about 3,600 meters, allowing it to glide to a runway landing at Edwards.

The test, though, was marred by the failure of one of the vehicle’s landing gears to deploy, causing it to skid off the runway after touchdown. The vehicle suffered only minor damage, though, and both NASA and the company considered the test flight a success.

Sierra Nevada Corp. shipped the Dream Chaser, after repairs and other modifications, to NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards early this year for testing leading up to a second glide flight. That flight will be the final funded milestone on the company’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability award made by NASA in 2012.

The company performed a captive carry flight Aug. 30 at Edwards, carrying the vehicle aloft under a helicopter for nearly two hours. That test was performed with media present and broadcast on NASA TV. A second captive carry test, without outside coverage, took place about a month later.

While Sierra Nevada Corp. failed to win a commercial crew contract, which NASA awarded to Boeing and SpaceX in 2014, it subsequently won a Commercial Resupply Services 2 cargo contract with NASA, along with Orbital ATK and SpaceX, using a version of Dream Chaser. The company’s first two cargo missions are planned for 2020 and 2021, launching on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5.