May 22, 2024

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Sierra Spacecraft’s Dream Chaser prepares for a pre-launch flight to the Cape – Spaceflight Now

Sierra Spacecraft’s Dream Chaser prepares for a pre-launch flight to the Cape – Spaceflight Now
Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser spaceplane is shown inside a test chamber at NASA’s Neil Armstrong Test Facility in Sandusky, Ohio. Image: Sierra Space

Sierra Space is one step closer to seeing its Dream Chaser spaceplane reach the launch pad. The spacecraft completed environmental testing at NASA’s Neil Armstrong Test Facility in Sandusky, Ohio, last week.

The testing campaign began last January, when the vehicle arrived at the center to undergo shock and vibration testing last February, which lasted about five weeks.

This was followed by a thermal vacuum test, in which the spaceplane named “Tenacity” and its cargo extension Shooting Star went through more than a month of exposure to a range of temperatures, ranging from -150 degrees Fahrenheit to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

“The successful completion of an incredibly rigorous environmental testing campaign in close partnership with NASA is a major milestone and puts Dream Chaser on track for operations later this year,” Sierra Space CEO Tom Weiss said in a statement. “This is the year we move from rigorous research and development to regular orbital operations, and in doing so, we change the way we connect space to Earth.”

With this campaign, Sierra Space is now preparing to load the Dream Chaser and Shooting Star for shipment to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Once it arrives at the Space Systems Processing Facility (SSPF), teams will finish adding thermal protection tiles and perform additional checks, such as acoustic testing.

Sierra Space has been working toward this goal for some time. It switched from a crewed version of the vehicle to a cargo version when it was selected as part of NASA’s $14 billion firm-fixed-price Indefinite-Delivery Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract for Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) in 2016. Their choice of the original CRS contract is also part of this deal.

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In March 2022, NASA requested an additional 12 missions from Northrop Grumman and SpaceX, six each, which will be flown through 2026. This brings the total number of missions ordered under CRS-2 to the following:

  • 14- Northrop Grumman
  • 3 – Sierra Space (originally Sierra Nevada Corporation)
  • 15- SpaceX

Vulcan SERT-2

The spaceplane is scheduled to be the payload for United Launch Alliance’s second certification mission for its Vulcan rocket. This will be the first of seven contracted missions using the missile.

If all goes according to plan with Dream Chaser, the launch will have to contend with a number of items on the International Space Station’s calendar, including four missions scheduled to launch on SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets. Crew-9 is scheduled to launch in the month-long timeframe August to relieve Crew-8, and NASA is eyeing no later than October for the fourth private astronaut mission across Axiom Space.

There are also launches of SpaceX’s 31st cargo mission (SpX-31) and Northrop Grumman’s 21st cargo mission (NG-21) under the CRS-2 contract, which are expected to take place in the back half of 2024 as well.

While ULA plans for Tenacity to be Vulcan’s second payload, that could change, if problems arise in the next round of testing. In a social media post, ULA President and CEO Torey Bruno said, “We have a backup if they have a problem,” but otherwise expect it to launch sometime this fall.

Defense official who spoke with Space news Using a mass simulator could be a viable alternative for ULA, he said, if Dream Chaser doesn’t meet its current launch goals for this fall.

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The news comes on the heels of a letter sent Friday to the presidents of both Lockheed Martin and Boeing from Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Frank Calvelli. Washington Post Break the story.

The letter said Calvelli was “concerned” about the Vulcan development timeline and “ULA’s ability to scale up manufacturing and extend its launch range for its Vulcan rocket to meet our needs.”

In an interview with Spaceflight Now in January, Bruno said the company was making good progress toward a planned launch rate of 25 rockets per year, or about a launch every two weeks, by “the back half of 2025.” He noted the completion of ULA’s finished goods warehouse near its main plant in Decatur, Alabama, and spoke of the arrival of a second barge to transport missile components (officially unveil last week).

Some of their suppliers, such as L3Harris, which supplies avionics, and Northrop Grumman, which makes solid rocket motors, are expanding their production lines in order to increase capacity, Bruno said.

The inaugural Vulcan rocket, powered by two Blue Origin BE-4 engines, lifts off from SLC-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on January 8, 2024. Photo: Adam Bernstein/Spaceflight Now

Blue Origin’s factory space in Huntsville, Alabama, was also doubled to increase production of its BE-4 engines, which power Vulcan’s booster stage, he said in that interview, and again during a press conference in March. Because Blue Origin was lagging behind its other suppliers in terms of development, ULA couldn’t fully transition to a full “future work” model to reach the biweekly launch rate until the latter half of 2025, Bruno said.

“We won’t really be in the forward build plan this year and the front part of next year with Blue Origin until they hit their stride and get to the production rate that we’re looking for,” Bruno said in March. . “Then, they’ll catch up and build inventory, like everyone else.”

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in Written notes After presenting to the House Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Calvelli emphasized the importance of completing Cert-2 as the key event that opens the door to national security missions. ULA has secured 60% of all National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Phase 2 missions, worth $3.12 billion, according to the U.S. Space Systems Command (SSC).

“Failure to complete the second certification flight will delay the launch of critical national security payloads this year, including GPS III-7, USSF-106, and USSF-87,” Calvelli wrote. “In parallel, Blue Origin needs to expand its production of BE-4 engines. We are monitoring whether these two companies can expand to meet our needs.

According to SSC, USSF-106, which is described as a “multi-pronged mission,” is scheduled to be Vulcan’s first NSSL mission. It will carry the payload of the Navigation Technology-3 satellite and another unannounced payload for the US Space Force.