The Dream Chaser space plane is reusable and ready for the runway

When NASA's Space Shuttle program ended after 30 years in July 2011, so did a familiar sight often captured in TV news clips — huge black-and-white orbiters arriving for landing after hundreds of successful orbits around Earth, orbiting fully extended and gliding down the runway like Ordinary plane.

Now, as part of NASA's goal of sending supplies to the International Space Station aboard a reusable spacecraft that can reenter the atmosphere and land safely without having to dive into the ocean, such a new spaceplane is expected to launch itself into the spotlight this year. .

Designed and built by Sierra Space at the company's headquarters in Louisville, Colorado, the first Dream Chaser spaceplane — called Tenacity — has undergone rigorous environmental testing at NASA's Neil Armstrong Test Facility in Ohio since November.

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Supported by NASA's 2016 Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract to transport cargo to and from the International Space Station, the unmanned vehicle is the first of the company's spacecraft fleet and is scheduled to provide at least seven unmanned cargo missions from To and from the International Space Station.

What is a dream chaser?

In development for more than a decade, the Dream Chaser may eventually carry a human crew in its next evolution, but for now and by this decade's standards, the vehicle is self-driving, taking commands from the company's mission control center in Colorado until it is operational. . Arrives at the International Space Station.

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Tenacity, along with an attached cargo module called the Shooting Star, is scheduled to deliver 12,000 pounds — roughly the weight of two Ford F-150s — to the International Space Station. The cargo could include almost anything – food, water, supplies for the astronauts, scientific equipment and spare parts for the station.

With no need to accommodate a human crew, most of Tenacity's available space is freed up for carefully stacked payload, and this version of the spaceplane has no windows.

The loading process for most cargo will begin 30 days before launch, but NASA's contract calls for a 24- to 48-hour window before launch, said Angie Wise, chief safety officer and senior vice president for safety and mission assurance at Sierra Space. Release for live charges, cold packs and other temperature sensitive equipment.

“Our team likes to refer to it as professional Tetris,” Wise said. “Here at our facility in Louisville, not only do we train our crew on how to load and unload our vehicle, we bring the astronaut crews to our facility to learn how to receive our vehicle, open the hatch, and load and unload the payload.”

While docked at the ISS, the Tenacity unloading and reloading process will take approximately 35 to 75 days, and the daily crew time allocated to unloading and reloading is limited.

The ISS crew will also load items to be destroyed onto the Shooting Star, which will not make the return trip to Earth. After the Tenacity separates from the ISS and begins burning in orbit, the cargo module separates from the Tenacity and burns up along with its contents upon reentry.

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How will the space plane arrive and connect to the International Space Station?

After Tenacity and Shooting Star complete their final environmental tests at Armstrong, NASA will ship the spacecraft to Kennedy Space Center to begin loading and preparing it for launch.

Tenacity embarks on its journey to low Earth orbit packed inside the 5-meter payload of United Launch Alliance's Vulcan rocket. Here are the main phases of the Tenacity mission to and from the International Space Station:

While Sierra Space says the Dream Chaser is capable of landing on large commercial runways, NASA has requested that Tenacity land at Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility to allow crews to retrieve cargo, instrumentation and sensitive science experiments more quickly.

According to Matthew Clark, chief brand officer and senior vice president of marketing communications for Sierra Space, Florida is ideal for these missions.

“By landing in Florida, we can remove the payload and get to it very quickly, and unlike the solutions we have around us today, we're not landing in the ocean, and it doesn't take a huge amount of time that we have to get to,” he said. “That's kind of “It's a big difference for us in terms of what we offer.”

Because of the thousands of foam-like thermal tiles covering the Dream Chaser, the spacecraft is able to cool down quickly after landing, making unloading time-sensitive cargo more efficient, Wise noted.

“Although we can get up to 3,000 degrees upon re-entry, within 30 minutes (Tenacity) has cooled enough that we can approach the vehicle and remove all the cargo and equipment from it,” she said.

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How does the Tenacity spaceplane compare to the space shuttle?

From nose to tail, Perseverance is just under 30 feet long, nearly a quarter of the length of NASA's space shuttle vehicles.

Unlike the space shuttles, which require solid rocket boosters and main engines that produce a combined 7.8 million pounds of thrust for launch, Tenacity's smaller size and foldable wings make it compatible with a variety of launch vehicle systems.

Space Sierra Resources; NASA; Florida today

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