Bringing Dream Chaser home


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The competition heats up: At an space industry conference this week Sierra Nevada outlined the ability of Dream Chaser to land at almost any airport, including the many financial and safety advantages of that flexibility.

The story notes that because Dream Chaser would not need an unusually long runway, it could land at most airports. Also, because it would have no hazardous materials on board, removing it from the runway after landing would be simple and straightforward. You would simply tow it away. The biggest advantage of this, howevr, is that if the spacecraft was docked at ISS and there was an emergency that required immediate evacuation, bringing Dream Chaser and its passengers home to a runway will be possible any time.

This presentation is part of Sierra Nevada’s sales effort to find new backers for their spacecraft, now that NASA has begged out. I think they make a good sales pitch. I hope someone with money agrees.

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15 comments

  • wodun

    Dream Chaser has a lot of advantages over capsules. Long term, they would have been a great choice. Hopefully, they can stay in business and competition with the other carriers.

  • Competential

    Does it really?
    A spacecraft which is totally designed for aerodynamic purposes is in my mind not obviously optimal. That it is severely restricted to only being able to land on large airfields is one of the problems, although some PR efforts seems to have been made recently to try to fool some people to think of this restriction as a “flexibility”.

    I think that the Dream Chaser was designed from the beginning with the aim of becoming some kind of sub-orbital vehicle. That space thing was just a stunt they pulled off and which was never, and will never be, reality. Any child who sees it understands instinctively that this is an aircraft, not a spaceship. There’s no need for wings and fins in vacuum.

  • Tom Billings

    “I think that the Dream Chaser was designed from the beginning with the aim of becoming some kind of sub-orbital vehicle. ”

    I’m sorry, but this ignores the documented history of the basic design. Before SNC picked it up, it was a NASA design for an orbital vehicle, that got cancelled, just like the X-37 was, because it might compete too well with the Shuttle program. Before that, the design basics were started and tested with orbital scale-models by Soviet designers in the 1980s. Our people got pics because they recovered at sea, and a PC-3 caught it being hauled aboard by a crane.

    So, …no, …it’s always been a design focused on return from orbit with precisely the flexibility SNC speaks about.

    Now, whether that will be sufficient to make a marketable system, once Dragon V2 is made fully reusable by landing vertically on land with rockets, with just as much or more flexibility, is yet to be determined.

  • Pzatchok

    I love SpaceX and their idea.

    But I trust wings more than retro rockets right now.

    Dream Chaser could be a leased vehicle instead of sold outright. Even at a break even rate it could eventually prove out as a very good ship.
    And then be a very desired craft for smaller countries who want space capability with the idea of total control over the craft in mind.
    Why would they want anyone knowing what experiments and or equipment they have stuffed on board?

  • wodun

    Is there anything the X-37b’s can do but Dream Chaser can’t? It looks like a more capable version of an X-37b.

    I don’t understand why landing at an airport would be a limitation. The Dragon lands at sea and that is really inconvenient. Airports are ubiquitous.

    But from what I understand, and that is not much, capsules face greater g forces on re-entry than the Dream Chaser. This means there are more limits to what can be taken down from the ISS.

    Someone from SNC did a Space Show interview a few months back. The segment is an hour long and was really interesting to listen to.

  • DK Williams

    It seems silly to land at commercial airports except in emergency. The Space Shuttle should have been built closer to Dream Chaser size and specs, but NASA wanted to go big to supersede the success of Apollo.

  • Matt in AZ

    There would be a sizable PR value in landing in different cities’ airports. Not many people have had the opportunity to see an actual spaceship in action, and this would bring that to people far removed from Kennedy or Edwards AFB.

  • Pzatchok

    The problem with landing one of these space planes is that they have no way to circle the airport waiting to land like other aircraft.
    And they have no way to move themselves while on the ground.

    So the airport will have to stop all landings for about a half hour before this space plane lands to make sure the landing strip and surrounding tarmac areas are cleared of any passenger planes.
    It will also take about that long to clear the airspace around the airport.
    Plus they will then have to send out a tow vehicle to hook up to the still hot aircraft and drag it off the runway. Not a quick procedure.
    And more than likely the fire department will want to be on hand just in case.

    No, more than likely they will choose a military runway. More quicker to be made ready and much better equipped to handle trouble. Plus no passenger craft to worry about.

  • Pzatchok

    Actually the shuttle was designed to recover and refit spy satellites which at the time it was designed were the exact size and shape of the shuttle cargo bay.

    Due to technological advancements during the shuttles construction it was never used for that purpose. Other jobs then needed to be found for it.

  • None of the inconveniences you raise about landing Dream Chaser at an airport are a big deal. These are the policies that exist today, in case any plane requires an emergency landing. And for Dream Chaser to have to make an unscheduled landing at any particular airport will certainly fall under the requirements of an emergency landing.

  • wodun

    “It seems silly to land at commercial airports except in emergency. ”

    Depends on who the customers are. NASA may want its astronauts to land someplace specific but so would ESA, Space Adventures, or any other customer. Being able to land at an airport gives them the flexibility to operate globally with limited special infrastructure needs.

  • Edward

    In addition to Robert’s points, should Dream Chaser be scheduled to land at an airport, well then it would be scheduled and all these problems would be incorporated into the airport’s operations for that time. Sierra Nevada or their customer would pay the extra fees for inconveniences and special services.

    If the inconvenience outweighs the prestige that such an airport would get for becoming a kind of spaceport, then Dream Chaser would not be scheduled for that airport. For example, I cannot imagine the busy LAX (Los Angeles) allowing scheduled Dream Chaser landings , but they likely would be more than willing to assist in an emergency.

  • Edward

    DK,

    Funny you should mention a smaller Space Shuttle. The first concept *was* for a much smaller ship, a bit larger than Dream Chaser, but NASA did not get the Nixon administration’s support, so they went to the Air Force to help get the needed political support. Part of the price that the Air Force asked was that the small experimental pallet bay be enlarged to carry satellites, and for it to fly into polar orbit from Vandenberg AFB (a reasonable orbit for spy satellites), as these justified a need for the Air Force.

    These two requirements greatly enlarged the craft and required large wings as well as a lot of design trade-offs (e.g. solid rocket boosters, external insulation on the external tank to save weight, heat shield in tile form to accommodate the flexibility of the now-large structure, and mounting to the side of the ET) that led to both crew losses and to the great expense of operations, including the long turnaround times (meaning lower than expected flight rates).

  • Pzatchok

    Te problem is easily solved there is no emergency that would stop the Dream Chaser from slightly altering in incursion point into the atmosphere. Thus giving it the chance to chose a military target.

    Its not fired into the atmosphere like a bullet. It has a chance. There are hundreds of possible military landing areas around the world. China might be a problem.

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