Dream Chaser successfully completes glide flight

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WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. — Sierra Nevada Corporation announced Nov. 11 that its Dream Chaser test article successfully performed a glide flight at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

In the long-awaited test, a helicopter carried the Dream Chaser engineering test article aloft and released it at an altitude of more than 3,000 meters, allowing the vehicle to glide to a runway landing at Edwards. The company said several hours after the test that the glide flight was a success, and would release more details Nov. 13.

The company did not announce the test in advance, but it was widely thought to be imminent. During a House Science Committee hearing Nov. 9, Bill Gersternmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said the test was approaching, but gave a Nov. 14 date for the event, three days later than when it actually occurred.

NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center said in Nov. 11 statement that the glide flight “verified and validated the performance of the Dream Chaser in the critical final approach and landing phase of flight.” The flight was a final funded milestone in the Space Act Agreement that Sierra Nevada Corporation has with NASA as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability effort.

The flight was the second free flight of the Dream Chaser. 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.

The glide flight, while a milestone in the company’s commercial crew agreement, will support Sierra Nevada Corporation’s efforts to develop a cargo version of the vehicle. The company won a Commercial Resupply Services 2 contract from NASA in 2016 to transport cargo to and from the ISS. A first flight of the Dream Chaser Cargo System is scheduled for 2020, with a minimum of six flights through 2024 under the contract.