Five Years and Counting for NASA Langley and Sierra Nevada
By: Chris Rink
"It looks like it should fly now, right?" said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president and head of Sierra Nevada Space Systems.
The "it" he was referring to is the Dream Chaser Space System (DCSS) model that just finished testing in the Transonic Dynamics Tunnel (TDT) at NASA’s Langley Research Center.
Sirangelo recently visited and toured the center as part of a commemoration of the company's five-year partnership with Langley and for a joint corporate-government executive session on the Dream Chaser program.
Based on the HL-20 lifting body space plane concept developed by Langley in the 1980s and 90s, Sierra Nevada and NASA are updating the vehicle design into the Dream Chaser orbital crew vehicle being developed as part of NASA’s venture into commercially provided crew transport. Original work on the HL-20 included creating pilot landing scenarios in simulators, testing designs in wind tunnels and even building a full-scale model - with the help of universities - to study crew challenges.
"I was telling people that I first came to Langley almost eight years ago," Sirangelo reminisced, "to look at the HL-20 that started here. And the progress from that model being under a tarp in one of the hangars to building a vehicle that had it first flight last week has been amazing. Langley has been part of that from the very beginning."
Sierra Nevada Corporation's (SNC) Dream Chaser design had a successful captive-carry test conducted near the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in Jefferson County, Colo., on May 29. SNC plans to build a full-scale flight version of Dream Chaser for additional tests.
The NASA-SNC team has also joined together with engineers at United Launch Alliance, makers of Dream Chaser's launch vehicle, the Atlas V, to perform buffet tests on the launch vehicle/orbital crew vehicle stack. Testing just completed in the TDT will evaluate the pressure fluctuations the launch vehicle stack may experience during its ascent to low Earth orbit.
"We're believers in history and heritage," Sirangelo added. "We're doing new things, but most everything we've done is based on tried and true practice of how things have been done in aviation and then in space. Langley, in my view, is the core and center point of that history. So much has started here, and so much has flown out of here. The work that has been done by the Langley people is now going into the vehicle."
SNC's plans for Dream Chaser to start entering its autonomous flight test program this summer and go on to launch in a couple of years. When that flight day finally arrives, the passenger list will be extensive.
"We're going to take all the names of the people who've worked on the program from Langley and imbed them into the space craft," said Sirangelo. "Not just the current people, but we have a list of the older people, as well. I think it's a roster and a roll call of success because it's never about one person or even a small team. It's about the hundreds if not thousands of people who've worked this.
The SNC head said he couldn't be here without the work that was done by the HL-20 team; and he couldn't be here without the work that's being done now by Langley. And he's not afraid of running out of room for names on the spacecraft.
"No," he laughed. "Digital works well. Only a few of us will get to space, but we're carrying the hopes and dreams and hard work of many thousands."
With a parting look and an affectionate pat on the Dream Chaser model before leaving the TDT, Sirangelo smiled and said, "Good girl."
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