Sierra Nevada officials revealed yesterday that they are delaying the first test flight of their Dream Chaser reusable cargo mini-shuttle from late 2021 to some unspecified time in 2022.
‘’COVID has definitely played a role” in that delay, said Steve Lindsey, senior vice president for strategy at SNC Space Systems. One example he gave involved structural testing of the spacecraft’s cargo module at a contractor’s facility in San Diego. COVID-related restrictions prevented SNC engineers from being on site at that facility to oversee the tests. SNC developed a workaround by using a mission control center it developed for Dream Chaser in Colorado so those engineers could remotely oversee those tests. “That worked great. Unfortunately, it took probably three or four times as long as it should have,” he said.
A related problem, he said, involves suppliers who have had to suspend operations because of COVID-19 outbreaks at their facilities. There have also been technical challenges with Dream Chaser, although he did not go into details about specific issues. [emphasis mine]
I underline the unspecified technical issues, because I suspect they might be the real issue. SpaceX has not been slowed in any significant way due to the Wuhan panic, even though it deals with NASA also. I would therefore not be surprised if they are using COVID-19 as a cover for other issues.
It is a new craft, and problems are expected. I’d just rather they didn’t hide it. It contributes to doubts about the company, which by the way has been much slower in its development than one should expect. NASA awarded this contract in January of 2016, with the first launch then planned for as early as October 2019. It is now 2020, and the launch is still now two years away.
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