Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser Space Plane Aces Free-Flight Drop Test

Sierra Nevada Corporation's privately built Dream Chaser space plane aced a critical test Saturday (Nov. 11) during a successful free-flight over California's Mojave Desert. 

The uncrewed Dream Chaser made a smooth landing at Edwards Air Force Base during the free-flight test at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, NASA officials said in a statement. Earlier this year, officials at the Armstrong center, where Dream Chaser is being tested, said the space plane would to be dropped from an altitude of 12,500 feet (3,810 meters) by a Columbia 234-UT helicopter for this test. [Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser Space Plane in Pictures]

"The Dream Chaser had a beautiful flight and landing!" Sierra Nevada representatives announced on Twitter Saturday. The company promised to release more test flight details, images and video on Monday (Nov. 13).

Dream Chaser looks much like a miniature version of a NASA space shuttle. It is about 30 feet long (9 meters) and capable of hauling up to 12,125 lbs. (5,500 kilograms) of cargo to the International Space Station. The spacecraft will launch on Atlas V rockets built by the United Launch Alliance and make runway landings. 

Sierra Nevada Corporation's uncrewed Dream Chaser space plane lands at Edwards Air Force Base in California after a successful free-flight drop test on Nov. 11, 2017. (Image credit: NASA/Carla Thomas)

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. Under that agreement, Sierra Nevada will fly at least six cargo delivery missions for NASA by 2024, agency officials said in the Nov. 11 statement

Two other companies, SpaceX and Orbital ATK, will use their own spacecraft to fly delivery missions for NASA as part of the CRS-2 program. 

Saturday's free-flight test "verified and validated the performance of the Dream Chaser in the critical final approach and landing phase of flight, meeting expected models for a future return from the International Space Station," Armstrong officials said, adding that more tests will likely follow. "The testing will validate the aerodynamic properties, flight software and control system performance of the Dream Chaser."

The Dream Chaser free flight follows an Aug. 30 captive carry test, which used the Columbia 234-UT helicopter.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.