The Dream Chaser spacecraft developed specifically for bringing supplied to the ISS is in the testing stages and passed a test for approach and landing on Saturday. But Saturday's first-ever successful test flight of a miniature, new-generation space shuttle was something of a coup for the Sierra Nevada Corp., which had been waiting years to fly.
As Geek Wire notes, Sierra Nevada landed a different contract previous year to use the Dream Chaser as an unmanned vehicle to transfer cargo back and forth to the International Space Station.
The spaceplane was carried to an altitude of 10,000 feet by a Boeing Vertol 234-UT heavy-lift helicopter, the civilian version of the Army's CH-47 Chinook, and then dropped to glide to the ground and land on a runway at Edwards Air Force Base. They're created to be used 15 or more times and have autonomous launch, flight and landing capabilities, according to Sierra Nevada Corp. Future orbital vehicles will launch on Atlas V rockets from United Launch Alliance, and Lockheed Martin has partnered with Sierra Nevada to develop the composite structural shell of the orbital-class vehicles.
Two other companies, SpaceX and Orbital ATK, will use their own spacecraft to fly delivery missions for NASA as part of the CRS-2 program. The company expects to start cargo missions sometime in 2020. (5,500 kilograms) of cargo to the International Space Station. It is being created to land on runways and then allow crews to access the materials flown back to Earth soon after landing.
The success of the flight test likely marks the last milestone for a $227.5 million contract awarded to Sierra Nevada in 2012 for NASA's Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) program.
The craft was made by the Sierra Nevada Corporation and was tested at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in California.