NASA’s Newest Spaceplane: Dream Chaser Tenacity Arrives at Kennedy Space Center

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By Lydia Amazouz Published on June 4, 2024 07:49
Nasa’s Newest Spaceplane Dream Chaser Tenacity Arrives At Kennedy Space Center

Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser Tenacity has arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, marking a significant milestone in NASA’s initiative to enhance commercial resupply missions to the International Space Station (ISS).

This uncrewed spaceplane, set to deliver 7,800 pounds of cargo using a ULA Vulcan rocket, represents a critical development in the push to bolster the reliability and efficiency of supply lines to the ISS. The Dream Chaser’s arrival signifies the culmination of extensive planning and engineering efforts aimed at expanding the capabilities of commercial spaceflight.

Pre-launch Testing and Preparation

Before making its way to Kennedy Space Center, Dream Chaser Tenacity and its companion Shooting Star cargo module underwent a series of rigorous tests at NASA’s Neil Armstrong Test Facility. These tests included vibration assessments to simulate the launch environment and exposure to extreme temperatures, ranging from -150 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, to replicate the conditions of space travel and re-entry.

Nasa’s Newest Spaceplane Dream Chaser Tenacity Arrives At Kennedy Space Center

This comprehensive testing regimen is crucial to ensure that the spaceplane can withstand the stresses of launch and return safely to Earth. The vibration tests, conducted atop the world’s highest capacity and most powerful spacecraft shaker system, were designed to mimic the intense forces the vehicle will experience during its mission.

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Following these tests, the spaceplane and its cargo module were subjected to low ambient pressures to simulate the vacuum of space, ensuring their systems remain functional under the most challenging conditions.

Final Preparations at Kennedy Space Center

Upon its arrival at Kennedy Space Center, the Dream Chaser Tenacity was transferred to the high bay inside the Space Systems Processing Facility. Here, it will undergo final testing and prelaunch processing, which includes a detailed series of checks such as acoustic and electromagnetic interference testing to ensure that onboard systems can operate without interference from external sources.

Additionally, the thermal protection system, critical for safe re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, will undergo thorough inspection and any necessary adjustments. Payload integration is another key aspect of these preparations, ensuring that all cargo is securely and efficiently loaded for the mission. These meticulous steps are designed to identify and address any potential issues, confirming that the spaceplane is fully ready for its scheduled launch later this year.

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Design and capabilities

The Dream Chaser spaceplane is characterized by its unique lifting body design and winged structure, measuring 30 feet long by 15 feet wide. This design allows it to land on conventional runways, similar to NASA’s space shuttle, offering significant advantages in terms of flexibility and reusability.

Dream Chaser Tenacity

The Shooting Star cargo module enhances its capabilities, allowing it to carry up to 7,000 pounds of cargo internally, with three additional unpressurized external payload mounts. This dual-module system enables the Dream Chaser to transport a wide variety of cargo to and from low Earth orbit.

The transportation system is partially reusable, with the spaceplane designed to perform up to seven cargo missions to the ISS. Future missions could see the Dream Chaser delivering as much as 11,500 pounds of cargo and remaining in orbit for up to 75 days.

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Additionally, while the Dream Chaser itself is reusable and capable of returning up to 3,500 pounds of cargo to Earth, the Shooting Star module is designed to be jettisoned and burn up during re-entry, allowing for the disposal of up to 8,500 pounds of trash per mission. This innovative approach not only enhances the efficiency of supply missions but also addresses waste management in space.

Certification and In-orbit Operations

As part of the certification process for future resupply missions, NASA and Sierra Space will conduct a series of in-orbit demonstrations. These will test the spaceplane's capabilities in attitude control, translational maneuvers, and abort procedures, ensuring that it meets the stringent requirements for operational safety and performance.

Once in orbit, Dream Chaser Tenacity will approach the ISS, performing a series of maneuvers to demonstrate its precision and control. ISS astronauts will then use the Canadarm2 robotic arm to grapple the spacecraft and dock it to an Earth-facing port. After completing its mission and spending approximately 45 days at the ISS, the spaceplane will be released and will return to Earth for a runway landing at Kennedy’s Launch and Landing Facility.

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Post-landing, the Sierra Space team will conduct detailed inspections, offload remaining NASA cargo, and begin preparations for the spaceplane’s next mission. This process ensures that the vehicle remains in optimal condition for its subsequent flights, maintaining the high standards required for NASA’s resupply missions.

A real-life "Star Wars"-style Spacecraft is Preparing for Launch

Dream Chaser Tenacity, with its retractable wings and sleek fuselage, has drawn comparisons to spacecraft from "Star Wars." This innovative design is not only visually striking but also highly functional, representing the latest advancements in aerospace engineering.

Arriving at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the Dream Chaser is set for its maiden voyage to the ISS in September. Prior to this, it underwent environmental testing at the Neil Armstrong Test Facility in Ohio, where it was subjected to conditions that mimic those in space to ensure its systems are fully prepared for the mission. The upcoming launch is designed to test its cargo capabilities, marking the beginning of a new era in commercial spaceflight.

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Space Glider Capabilities

The Dream Chaser spaceplane, developed under a contract with NASA, is designed to fly seven cargo missions to the ISS. Unlike SpaceX’s Dragon, which relies on parachutes for its descent, Dream Chaser can glide back to Earth and land on any runway that is at least 10,000 feet long.

This capability offers significant logistical advantages, allowing for more flexible and controlled landings. The spaceplane is currently being outfitted with heat tiles that will protect it during re-entry, and it will be attached to its expendable cargo module, known as the Shooting Star.

This module enhances its cargo capacity and provides additional functionality, such as the ability to dispose of waste. The Dream Chaser's design is a blend of innovation and proven technology, building on the legacy of past US and Soviet spaceplanes while introducing new features that enhance its operational capabilities.

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An editor specializing in astronomy and space industry, passionate about uncovering the mysteries of the universe and the technological advances that propel space exploration.

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