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Sierra Nevada Corp tests Dream Chaser spacecraft

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The Dream Chaser rolls out on Runway 22L at Edwards Air Force Base California. Credit NASA

Back in 2010, NASA awarded the company $20 million to develop the Dream Chaser as a crewed vehicle, and Sierra Nevada did a ton of tests over the next couples of years to prepare the spacecraft for carrying passengers. But a year ago, NASA awarded a second round of contracts, in order to cover cargo shipments to the ISS from 2019 through 2024.

Sierra Nevada is developing Dream Chaser to deliver supplies to the space station for NASA under the agency's Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) program. The craft was tested using a free-flight method, meaning it was brought up and then released to glide down and land unmanned on a runway, which it did according to plan. "The vehicle landed safely, and there were absolutely no issues", Mark Sirangelo, the head of Sierra Nevada Corp's Space Systems Division, said in an interview. The company expects to start cargo missions sometime in 2020.

The flight was the second free flight of the Dream Chaser. It is being created to land on runways and then allow crews to access the materials flown back to Earth soon after landing.

NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center said in November 11 statement that the glide flight "verified and validated the performance of the Dream Chaser in the critical final approach and landing phase of flight". It will lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 booster from Cape Canaveral, and will touch down on the runway at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Dream Chaser used an onboard autonomous guidance computer to line up with the runway and land, deploying two main landing gear wheels and a front nose skid. The successful flight had no passengers on board, and the vehicle flew itself instead of being controlled remotely. Sierra Nevada plans to give more details on the test during a press conference this afternoon.

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