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 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.