Sierra Space raises $1.4 billion in investment capital

Capitalism in space: Sierra Space, the space subsidiary of Sierra Nevada, has raised $1.4 billion in investment capital in a recent round of fund-raising.

The company will use the funds to support development of Dream Chaser, the lifting-body vehicle it is building for to transport cargo for the International Space Station starting in late 2022. The company originally developed Dream Chaser to carry people as a competitor in NASA’s commercial crew program, and company executives have frequently stated they still plan to develop a crewed version at a later date.

The funds will also support development of its Large Integrated Flexible Environment (LIFE) inflatable module. Both LIFE and Dream Chaser are part of Orbital Reef, the commercial space station concept announced Oct. 25 by a team that includes Sierra Space along with Blue Origin, Boeing and Redwire.

It appears that the investment community likes the Orbital Reef commercial space station concept, and especially likes Sierra Space’s part in it. This influx of cash also suggests that the investors got a good look at the status of Dream Chaser, and were satisfied its development was proceeding as planned.

Sierra Space teams up with Blue Origin to build its Life space station

Proposed Orbital Reef space station

Capitalism in space: Sierra Space and Blue Origin today announced [pdf] that they are forming a consortium of space companies to build a space station they dub Orbital Reef. From the press release:

The Orbital Reef team of experts brings proven capabilities and new visions to provide key elements and services, including unique experience from building and operating the International Space Station:

  • Blue Origin – Utility systems, large-diameter core modules, and reusable heavy-lift New Glenn launch system.
  • Sierra Space – Large Integrated Flexible Environment (LIFE) module, node module, and runway-landing Dream Chaser spaceplane for crew and cargo transportation, capable of landing on runways worldwide.
  • Boeing – Science module, station operations, maintenance engineering, and Starliner crew spacecraft.
  • Redwire Space – Microgravity research, development, and manufacturing; payload operations and deployable structures.
  • Genesis Engineering Solutions – Single Person Spacecraft for routine operations and tourist excursions.
  • Arizona State University – Leads a global consortium of universities providing research advisory services and public outreach.

I suspect that this deal is actually telling us that Jeff Bezos is spreading some of his Blue Origin money to help finance Sierra Space’s work. The deal also appears to be an effort to generate work for Blue Origin’s not-yet-launched New Glenn rocket and Boeing’s not-yet launched Starliner capsule.

The release says nothing about target dates, but the overview [pdf] on the Orbital Reef website says they are aiming for the second half of this decade.

While the success of such a project can only increase the competition and lower the cost to orbit, thus making the settlement of space more likely, this announcement reeks of the same kind of high-minded promises that came with Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lunar lander: Big plans by the best and most established space companies, with little firm commitment by these companies to actually build anything.

Compared to the Blue Moon lunar lander project, however, this project has one very significant difference that could make it real. Orbital Reef is not being touted in order to win a government contract. It is being touted as a commercial station for private customers. Such a project will require these companies to either invest their own money, or obtain outside investment capital, to build it. To make money they can’t sit and wait for their customers to pay for it, since customers never do that (except the government). They need to first build it.

Meanwhile, the BE-4 engine is not yet flight worthy, so that Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket remains no closer to launch, even though it is now approaching two years behind schedule.

Sierra Space makes deal with UK spaceport for Dream Chaser landings

Capitalism in space: Sierra Space has signed an agreement with a spaceport in Cornwall, England, allowing it to land its Dream Chaser mini-shuttles there.

Sierra Space signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Spaceport Cornwall expressing support for future landings of Dream Chaser at the spaceport, also known as Cornwall Newquay Airport in southwestern England.

The MOU came after Sierra Space performed a study, supported by the U.K. Space Agency, evaluating the feasibility of using the spaceport for Dream Chaser landings. The lifting body vehicle is designed to glide to a landing on runways, and the initial study concluded the spaceport is “a suitable and viable return location for the orbital return” for Dream Chaser, Sierra Space said in a statement.

The more places Sierra can land Dream Chaser the more commercially viable it will be. For Cornwall, this strengthens its position as a spaceport, having already signed an agreement with Virgin Orbit to allow it to launch from there.

Sierra Nevada gets clearance to land Dream Chaser in Florida

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada today announced that it has now gotten clearance to land its Dream Chaser-class Tenacity spacecraft at the Kennedy Space Center, with a hoped-for first flight in ’22.

The Use Agreement makes SNC the first commercial user of Space Florida’s FAA Re-entry Site Operator License and provides the runway and support facilities needed during testing and landing. It also takes SNC one step further in applying for its own FAA re-entry license, something needed ahead of the first Dream Chaser mission next year.

Because Tenacity is a cargo freighter only, they do not plan a significant test program prior to that first launch to ISS.

Sierra Nevada to make its space operations a separate company

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada has decided to spin off its space operations involving Dream Chaser and its proposed private space station into a separate company called Sierra Space.

In a message to employees April 14, SNC [Sierra Nevada] Chairwoman and President Eren Ozmen said the company’s Space Systems division will become a standalone company, called Sierra Space, although remain a subsidiary of SNC.

…Ozmen provided few details about how the transition of SNC’s space business to Sierra Space would unfold, but she said it would take several months to complete. Even after the transition, Sierra Space will “continue deep cooperation and synergy” with SNC’s other business areas in aviation and defense.

My guess is that Ozmen does not want the risks of its space-related projects to impact its more reliable aviation and defense holdings. By separating it out, she can better isolate the success or failure of each. This does not necessarily mean that the space holdings are failing, only that they carry a greater financial risk.

Sierra Space’s future strongly hinges on the success of the first Dream Chaser cargo shuttle, Tenacity, whose inaugural flight has been delayed from ’21 to ’22. If that fails, all the other plans of this space division will likely fail as well. If it succeeds however the company’s financial future will be quite promising.

Sierra Nevada will build space stations and a manned version of Dream Chaser

Sierra Nevada's proposed LIFE space station
Artist conception of Sierra Nevada’s LIFE space station

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada announced today that it will not only build a manned version of its Dream Chaser reusable mini-shuttle, it now intends to use that shuttle as a ferry to its own space station, made up of inflatable modules.

They have dubbed their proposed station LIFE, and describe as follows:

The LIFE habitat is a three story, 27-foot large inflatable fabric environment that launches on a conventional rocket and inflates on-orbit. The LIFE habitat is undergoing a NASA soft-goods certification this year and the full size ground prototype developed under NASA’s NextSTEP-2 contract is in the process of being transferred from Johnson Space Center in Texas to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for further testing on short-and long-term habitation. SNC’s Astro Garden® system also provides fresh food within the habitat.

Making a manned version of Dream Chaser was always expected. Adding the company’s own station makes complete sense. Except for the rocket to launch a Dream Chaser spacecraft, Sierra Nevada will be able to provide a full service experience to, in, and from space.

Dream Chaser first flight delayed to ’22

Officials from Sierra Nevada today revealed they have now delayed the first flight of their mini-reusable Dream Chaser shuttle Tenacity until ’22 rather than late this year.

They claim the cause of the delay is the Wuhan flu.

Sierra Nevada has not announced when in 2022 Dream Chaser will attempt to make its first flight, but Lindsey described how pandemic restrictions prevented engineers from being on site for structural testing of the cargo model. Instead, engineers remotely oversaw the tests from a mission control center in Colorado. While the workaround allowed testing to continue, it took three or four times as long as it should have, Lindsey said.

Other delays came from supplier shutdowns due to COVID-19 outbreaks. Technical challenges not related to the pandemic also caused problems, though Lindsey did not elaborate. “All of those things have conspired to move the date a little bit,” Lindsey said.

The first issue is a management decision by the company. I note that SpaceX does not create these kinds of restrictions, and has therefore not experienced any slowdown in its launches or Starship development. It also appears to be experiencing no significant issues with COVID-19 infections.

The second issue is also in a sense a management decision. Sierra Nevada is subcontracting a lot of its work, and thus is at the mercy of other companies. Once again, SpaceX made a decision years ago to do as much as possible in-house. Thus, they are at no one’s mercy, and can push forward even as others cower in fear.

Overall, the pace of development at Sierra Nevada has not been impressive, but then, much of their work is being done by others, such as Lockheed Martin.

Sierra Nevada delays first Dream Chaser launch to ’22

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.

Sierra Nevada starts installing thermal tiles on Tenacity

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada has received and started to install the thermal protection tiles for its first Dream Chaser reusable mini-shuttle, dubbed Tenacity.

The Thermal Protection System (TPS) tiles are one of the major hardware components used on Dream Chaser and cover nearly the entire craft to protect it from the heat of the sun and the plasma regime during atmospheric reentry. The tiles can withstand the scorching heat of 1,650°C (3,000°F) and prevent the vehicle from being destroyed during reentry.

Dream Chaser has approximately 2,000 TPS tile compared to the 24,000 tiles used on the Space Shuttle. Dream Chaser is about 1/4 the size of a Shuttle Orbiter. The tiles on Dream Chaser utilize a room temperature vulcanizing (RTV) silicone to keep the tiles bonded to the vehicle at all times. The silicone can withstand high temperatures, making it ideal for use. Each of the tiles is tested by a mechanism that pulls on each one, helping avoid issues of the tiles falling off, which happened early in the Space Shuttle Program.

The company notes that the vehicle remains on schedule for a 2021 launch on a ULA Vulcan rocket.

Sierra Nevada names its first Dream Chaser spacecraft “Tenacity”

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada yesterday announced that it is giving the name “Tenacity” to its first Dream Chaser spacecraft.

Though the press release does not say so, this decision essentially confirms the company intention to build more Dream Chaser spacecraft, once this one proves itself in flight. And I would expect those later craft will be aimed at manned flight.

Update on Dream Chaser

Link here. According to Sierra Nevada, the company that is building this mini-shuttle cargo ship, they are on track to launch next year. They are also aggressively working on a Dream Chaser version that would be able to transport humans to space.

SNC has “never stopped working” on the crewed version of Dream Chaser, Lindsey said. While the company’s focus right now is getting the cargo version ready for its first flight on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan-Centaur rocket next year, the first crewed flight “absolutely” will take place within 5 years.

“There’s interest, not necessarily from NASA, but other customers” that Lindsey expects to grow once the cargo version is flying. SNC will offer either a “taxi model” where it supplies the crew to fly it, or a “rental car model” where the customer provides the crew. It will be up to the customer to decide.

If they can get this spacecraft operational, they will join SpaceX as a leader in the reusability market, having built a ship that can be flown repeatedly on profit-making missions. In fact, it appears that the entire private American effort to get humans into space is aggressively shifting towards full reusability. SpaceX has got the first stage solved, and is also now routinely reusing its cargo Dragon capsules. It is also working to make both the upper stage (Starship) and manned capsules (crew Dragon) reusable. Sierra Nevada is in turn working on the manned spacecraft with Dream Chaser. Similarly, Blue Origin says the first stage of its New Glenn rocket will be reusable.

Those companies and nations that ignore this development (such as the Europeans Space Agency and Russia) will find themselves left far behind. Reusablity of rockets has been proven, and it lowers the cost to get to space so radically that without it you cannot compete.

Sierra Nevada updates Dream Chaser status, names its cargo module

Capitalism in space: In providing a detailed update in the construction of its reusable Dream Chaser mini-shuttle, Sierra Nevada yesterday revealed that it has named the small expendable cargo module that it will be attached to its Dream Chaser “Shooting Star.”

As part of Dream Chaser’s overall design, the vehicle itself does not contain the berthing port or solar arrays needed for it to perform its mission. Instead, those elements are mounted on what had been, before today, referred to as the cargo module – an element of Dream Chaser that now has a dedicated name: Shooting Star.

The name is a nod to the fact that it is the only part of Dream Chaser that is disposable and will burn up in the atmosphere as a streaking ball of fire – just like a shooting star.

The module itself, while containing the solar arrays and main propulsion elements for orbital maneuvering, will also be capable of transporting a large amount of internal cargo to the Station. It is also the part of Dream Chaser on which external cargo can be mounted for delivery and disposal of external elements that are no longer needed for the orbital outpost.

The article provides many details about the status of Dream Chaser that are worth reading, including noting its other potential uses beyond supplying ISS with cargo.

Dream Chaser’s primary structure completed

Capitalism in space: The primary structure for Sierra Nevada’s reusable mini-shuttle, Dream Chaser, has been completed and delivered to the company’s Colorado facility for final assembly.

Essentially, this structure, built by Lockheed Martin, is basically the hull of Dream Chaser. Sierra Nevada now has to install the guts.

They won the contract to build Dream Chaser from NASA in 2016, and for the past three years the company has said little about its progress, causing me concern that there might be issues. This story dispels those concerns.

It is also instructive to compare their progress with SLS, if only to illustrate the advantage of NASA buying what it needs from private companies, who retain ownership of their work, rather than having NASA design and own its hardware.

Dream Chaser: Sierra Nevada first began development of Dream Chaser in 2011, but full construction did not begin until the 2016 contract award. They hope to launch by the end of 2021. This means they will go from award to flight in five years.

The contract’s specific amount was never published, but NASA’s did say that the maximum it would spend for all missions performed by all three cargo capsules (SpaceX, Northrop Grumman, Sierra Nevada) would be $14 billion. This means Sierra Nevada’s share is probably around $4 to $5 billion.

SLS: NASA began its first design work on this heavy lift rocket in 2004, but the first design, dubbed Constellation, was cancelled by President Obama in 2010. Congress then stepped in and mandated that construction continue, under a revised design, now dubbed the Space Launch System. Launch of the first SLS is now expected in 2021.

The cost? Based on my research for my policy paper, Capitalism in Space, the cost by 2021 will be $25 billion.

So, while Sierra Nevada will take five years and $4 to $5 billion to fly its spacecraft, NASA will take eleven years and $25 billion to fly its. I admit the scale is different, but SLS fares as badly when a similar comparison is made with Falcon Heavy.

The difference? Dream Chaser is privately owned, privately designed, and privately managed, by one company, with the goal of making a profit as quickly as possible. SLS is government owned, government designed, and managed by a host of agencies, lawmakers, and contractors, with no set clear goal and no requirement to make a profit at any time.

Which product would you buy?

Schedule for Dragon/Starliner manned flights revised

Capitalism in space: NASA has released a new updated planning schedule for the manned flights of both SpaceX’s Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner manned capsules.

Boeing’s first unmanned demo flight of Starliner is now set for September 17, 2019. This will be followed by SpaceX’s first manned Dragon flight, scheduled for November 15, 2019. Boeing will then follow with its first manned Starliner flight on November 30, 2019.

These are considered target dates. I have great doubts that the Starliner schedule will proceed as described, while SpaceX’s schedule is more likely.

The article also had this interesting tidbit about the upcoming launch schedule of Sierra Nevada’s unmanned reusable cargo ship Dream Chaser:

According to the document, the first flight of Dream Chaser will take place in a planned September 2021 timeframe and will see the vehicle remain berthed to the International Space Station for up to 75 days before returning to Earth to land on a runway for reuse.

There are clearly issues with all these commercial projects. For example, the GAO today released a new report citing the numerous delays in this commercial manned program and calling for NASA to come up with a more complete back-up plan.

Nonetheless, the 2020s have the potential to be the most exciting decade in space exploration since the 1960s. If all goes even close to these plans, the U.S. will have three operating manned spacecraft (Dragon, Starliner, Orion), two reusable cargo spacecraft (Dragon, Dream Chaser), one non-reusable (Cygnus), and a plethora of launch companies putting up payloads of all kinds, from planetary missions to basic commercial satellites numbering in the thousands.

Much could happen to prevent all this. Keep your fingers crossed that nothing will.

NASA approves Dream Chaser design

Capitalism in space? Sierra Nevada has, after several years of work, obtained NASA’s approval of the design of its Dream Chaser mini-shuttle, and will now begin construction.

I put a question mark in the header above because I am no longer sure Sierra Nevada is building a privately designed and privately owned spacecraft for the launch market. It seems that they have been captured entirely by NASA, and will instead be building the spacecraft NASA wants, which might raise costs enough to make this vehicle unaffordable for other customers.

The situation is understandable. Sierra Nevada does not have the independent capital that gives SpaceX its independence. It needs NASA to get this ship built, and thus will do whatever NASA demands. I just worry that NASA, unconcerned about cost (as is every agency in the federal government today), will spoil Dream Chaser’s viability in the commercial market.

Sierra Nevada opens all rockets to launching Dream Chaser

In a status update for its Dream Chaser reusable mini-shuttle cargo ship to ISS, Sierra Nevada officials also revealed that they are considering a wide range of launch companies for future launches.

SNC announced a contract with ULA in July 2017 that covered two Dream Chaser launches, in 2020 and 2021. Both would use the Atlas 5 552, the largest version of the Atlas 5 with a five-meter payload fairing, five solid rocket boosters and a dual-engine Centaur upper stage.

However, Sirangelo said the company was looking at other options for launching the second and later Dream Chaser ISS cargo missions. “It’s a quite interesting time in the launch business, where we see all the major launch companies coming out with a new launch system,” he said. “We are looking at all of the launch systems.” Sirangelo said later that the company issued a request for proposals for multiple Dream Chaser launches. “We’ll probably be making a decision by the end of this year,” he said. “We’re gotten tremendous response for it.” He declined to discuss specific vehicles under consideration but said SNC received “really great response from all the major providers.”

Their willingness to open up the launch bidding is merely a recognition that they can save money by encouraging competition for their business. The vehicle itself has not yet completed its design review, though they hope to begin its assembly within a month, with a planned launch date in late 2020.

The company was awarded its cargo contract in January 2016, more than two years ago. It seems to me that it has taken far too long to get to this point. I wonder if NASA has thrown up roadblocks, as it has with SpaceX.

NASA approves 2020 launch window for first Dream Chaser flight

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada has gotten the okay from NASA to aim for a 2020 launch window for the first flight of its reusable Dream Chaser mini-shuttle.

SNC announced Feb. 7 that it had received “authority to proceed” on that mission using the company’s Dream Chaser vehicle. The mission will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket in late 2020. The mission is the first of six in the company’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) 2 contract it won in 2016 to transport cargo to and from the ISS. SNC received a CRS-2 contract along with current CRS providers Orbital ATK and SpaceX.

“While we won the contract a couple of years ago, the contract still needed to be validated by a task order,” said Mark Sirangelo, executive vice president of SNC’s Space Systems business area, in a Feb. 7 speech at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Commercial Space Transportation Conference here. That order, he said, is the “biggest step” to date on the program. That flight will be a “full scale, fully operational mission,” he said, even though it will represent the first orbital flight of the Dream Chaser. Orbital ATK and SpaceX, who developed their Cygnus and Dragon spacecraft, respectively, under earlier NASA Space Act Agreements, flew demonstration missions before starting their operational CRS cargo flights.

Do not be surprised if this flight does not launch on schedule. I fully expect that development will push it back into 2021, a delay that would not be unreasonable.

Dream Chaser test vehicle flies again!

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser test vehicle today completed its second glide test, the first since 2013, successfully gliding to a perfect landing after being dropped from a helicopter at an altitude of 10,000 feet.

Unlike the 2013 glide test, the landing gear worked perfectly. With two such tests under their belt, the company I think has demonstrated that the spacecraft will be able to execute a landing. Next comes the building and test flight of the actual spacecraft.

Sierra Nevada and Canada sign agreement for using Dream Chaser

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada has signed an agreement with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to study ways in which Canada might utilize the company’s reusable Dream Chaser spacecraft.

This agreement is very preliminary, with no apparent specific plans announced nor any exchange of money. It is however another signal of the strong interest that foreign governments have in buying time on Dream Chaser, once it is operational.

Sierra Nevada and German space center increase ties

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada and the German Aerospace Center have signed a new agreement increasing their partnership for using Dream Chaser in space.

The current MOU follows a 2013 Technical Understanding between the parties that initiated cooperation on space activities. This new agreement allows the two entities to establish goals and baseline objectives on future missions, scientific contributions and future space architecture for LEO, Cislunar and lunar operations, and deep space exploration.

It is clear once again that Sierra Nevada is trying to find partners who can pay to keep Dream Chaser flying as much as possible, between its cargo missions to ISS.

UN announces proposed Dream Chaser international mission

Capitalism in space: The Outer Space office of the United Nations has announced an opportunity for member nations to express their interest in doing a science mission using Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser reusable spaceship.

The UN announcement states that

The purpose of this Call for Interest (CFI) is to provide a summary of the proposed mission and to solicit information from Member States interested in providing experiments, payloads, or satellites that could be flown on this mission. The CFI also has the objective of gathering information on the interested countries so that UNOOSA may better understand the demand for this type of mission.

The actual call [pdf] roughly describes a mission lasting 2 to 3 weeks and carrying about 20 experiments. This call is designed to give them a better idea of what those experiments might be, what nations wish to participate, and where the funding for the mission might come from. The actual announcement to submit experiment proposals won’t come until March 2018.

Being a UN mission, it is not surprising that it wants to focus on a variety of leftwing “Sustainable Development Goals”:
» Read more

Sierra Nevada picks ULA’s Atlas 5 for first two Dream Chaser cargo flights

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada has awarded ULA the contract for the first two cargo flights of Dream Chaser to ISS.

The announcement sets Dream Chaser’s first cargo flight to the International Space Station for launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, in 2020. A second ISS cargo flight is contracted to lift off the next year. “ULA is an important player in the market and we appreciate their history and continued contributions to space flights and are pleased to support the aerospace community in Colorado and Alabama,” said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s Space Systems.

Financial terms of the contract were not disclosed.

Dream Chaser test vehicle undergoing tow tests

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser engineering test vehicle underwent tow tests today.

Rolling on two main landing gear wheels and a nose skid, the Dream Chaser traveled down a runway Monday in Sierra Nevada’s latest tow test at Edwards Air Force Base, which is co-located with NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center. Once cut free from its tow vehicle, the Dream Chaser slowed to a stop, allowing engineers to gather data on the craft’s brakes, steering system, and guidance, navigation and control sensors that will line the spaceplane up for landing, according to Eric Cain, a Sierra Nevada engineer who described Monday’s test on the company’s Twitter account.

More tests are planned in the coming months, including additional tow tests and a “captive carry” flight with the Dream Chaser suspended under a helicopter.

This is the same engineering test vehicle that underwent tow tests and flew successfully once, though its landing gear failed up upon touchdown. They have replaced that landing gear, which was borrowed from the Air Force and was never intended to be the spacecraft’s wheels. Thus, they need to go through these tests all over.

Dream Chaser flight tests upcoming

The competition heats up: According to Sierra Nevada officials, drop tests and glide tests of the engineering test ship of its Dream Chaser cargo spacecraft will begin this spring.

The partially-assembled test craft arrived at the California test site, located on Edwards Air Force Base, on Jan. 25. Technicians are adding the ship’s V-shaped tail fins and other equipment before kicking off ground and flight tests in the coming months, according to Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of Sierra Nevada’s space systems division. “We’ll do a series of ground tests,” Sirangelo said in a recent interview. “That will include towing the vehicle down the runway, and that allows us to see how it stops and how it moves, but it also allows us to test all the sensors on the vehicle because we can get it up to a high enough speed where that will happen.”

…After the ground tests, Sirangelo said the Dream Chaser test article will perform “captive carry” tests suspended under a helicopter, using the exercises to verify the movements of the craft’s aerosurfaces and navigation instrumentation. “When that’s done, we’ll move into a series of flight tests, where it will be dropped for approach and landing like the shuttle Enterprise,” Sirangelo said, referring to the vehicle NASA used for landing demonstrations in the 1970s before the first full-up space shuttle mission.

This all sounds great, but Sierra Nevada has been promising these test flights now for more than a year. It is time they got started already.

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