NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden discusses the role and capabilities of Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Space Systems' Dream Chaser flight vehicle for eventual transport of astronauts to and from the International Space Station with assembled news media representatives during a briefing at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center. (NASA / Ken Ulbrich) › View Larger Image
Former NASA space shuttle astronaut Steve Lindsey, now Director of Flight Operations for Sierra Nevada Corporation, points out features of the firm's prototype Dream Chaser flight test vehicle to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and Patrick Stoliker, deputy director of NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center. (NASA / Tom Tschida) › View Larger Image NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden visited the agency's Dryden Flight Research Center on Wednesday, May 22, taking the opportunity to see the Sierra Nevada Corporation's (SNC) Dream Chaser test vehicle that had arrived at the center a week earlier.
Bolden, SNC's Director of Flight Operations and former NASA astronaut Steve Lindsey and Patrick Stoliker, deputy director of NASA Dryden, outlined the coming ground and flight tests for the Dream Chaser to news media representatives gathered in a hangar at the NASA field center. SNC is preparing the vehicle for tow, captive-carry and free-flight tests at Dryden, which is located on Edwards Air Force Base, later this year.
"I'm personally excited about having Dream Chaser here at Dryden," Bolden told the assembled news media personnel, Sierra Nevada and NASA staff. "I can't think of a better place to be testing a vehicle like this than bringing it right out here to the Edwards Dry Lake Bed, which is very historic in its own right," he added.
The testing is part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP) initiatives to develop safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit. It is one of three spacecraft being developed for that role under the CCP program, the others being Boeing's CST-100 capsule and a crewed version of Space Exploration Technologies' (SpaceX) Dragon capsule. The Dream Chaser is the only one designed to make a soft airplane-style landing on a runway, similar to landings of the now-retired space shuttles.
"Ultimately, it's going to be commercial capabilities getting us to low-Earth orbit," Bolden added. "I'm really anxious to help Sierra Nevada, Boeing and SpaceX get on with the competition to determine who's going to carry our astronaut crews."
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and Steve Lindsey, Director of Flight Operations for Sierra Nevada Corporation, respond to reporter's queries in front of Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser flight test vehicle during a media briefing at NASA Dryden. (NASA / Tom Tschida) › View Larger Image The administrator noted that if funding for NASA's Commercial Crew Program is cut, it would jeopardize the agency's congressionally approved programs for manned exploration of space beyond low Earth orbit. It would also force NASA to keep spending large sums – currently more than $70 million per mission – to Russia to fly American astronauts to and from the space station.
"We have got to get Commercial Crew funded, or we're going to be paying the Russians forever," Bolden maintained. "Without Commercial Crew, we probably won't have exploration."
The Dream Chaser Space System is based on NASA's "Horizontal Lander" HL-20 lifting body design concept. The upcoming flight tests will provide data on the spacecraft's aerodynamic performance during subsonic approach and landing on a traditional runway. The tests are part of pre-negotiated, paid-for-performance milestones with CCP, which is facilitating commercial, U.S.-led development of spacecraft and rockets that can launch from American soil.
"We think (Dream Chaser) is the right answer for our nation," said Lindsey. Although the Dream Chaser is much smaller and lacks the large cargo capacity of the space shuttles in which he flew five missions, Lindsey maintained Sierra Nevada's craft is "less complex, easier to operate, easier to turn around and we think ultimately safer."
The Dream Chaser flight test vehicle shared the limelight at the event with the original and much smaller M2-F1 prototype lifting body, which pioneered wingless lifting body flight in the 1960s at NASA Dryden.
While at Dryden, Bolden also met with SNC's ground and flight-test staff, flew approach-and-landing simulations for the Dream Chaser, addressed an employee town hall and was briefed by center management on current programs, projects and operations at the center.
"I couldn't be prouder of the work that's being done here at Dryden as well as our other NASA centers," Bolden said. "They do incredible work out here. Just look around the hangar deck and you can see the diversity of projects in which we're involved."
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