The day Sierra Space has been dreaming of is nearly at hand.
The Colorado-based aerospace company has pulled back the curtain on the first completed example of its Dream Chaser space plane. The vehicle will now undergo rigorous testing before it’s ready to be used to ferry cargo between Earth and the International Space Station (ISS).
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The first member of the Dream Chaser fleet is named Tenacity. The winged vehicle’s space shuttle-like design can withstand reentry temperatures of over 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit and then be cool to the touch within minutes of landing, according to Space.com. It also features an autonomous flight system good for at least 15 space missions and can reduce reentry acceleration to 1.5 g to protect fragile cargo when needed.
The Dream Chaser has been in development since 2004, during which time much, as you can imagine, has changed, according to New Atlas. Sierra Space originally envisioned the spacecraft carrying both passengers and cargo, but when Space X, Boeing, and Northrup Grumman were quicker to develop such vehicles, the company shifted its focus and resources to building the world’s first commercial runway capable space plane. It is currently funded under a NASA contract, but it will eventually be available for other customers to make trips into low orbit (like, say, to a private space station).
Tenacity is currently still at Sierra Space’s production facility in Louisville, Colorado. In the coming weeks, it will be shipped to NASA’s Neil A. Armstrong Test Facility in Sandusky, Ohio. Once there, it will undergo rounds of environmental testing—including being run through the center’s large thermal vacuum chambers—to determine if it is, in fact, space-worthy.
Once the Dream Chaser has passed all required tests with flying colors it will be shipped to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, according to Space.com. Should everything go to plan, the craft could make its first flight to space atop the United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur rocket as early as April of next year.
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