Commercial Airports Could be Designated as Landing Site for Spacecraft

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Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), designer and manufacturer of advanced spacecraft, space vehicles, rocket motors and spacecraft subsystems based in Louisville, Colorado, is seeking partnership with spaceports and commercial airports to become a “preferred landing site” for the company’s Dream Chaser spacecraft.

DreamChaser 3Dream Chaser is the only commercial space vehicle that is capable of landing on runways of commercial airports.

The company is seeking applications for spaceport licenses through its Designated Landing Site Program.

The program is offering three different levels of designation, with the highest level culminating in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issuing a re-entry license to SNC for the designated spaceport or airport. This program was created based on similar work currently being done with Ellington Spaceport in Houston, Texas and the Huntsville International Airport Authority (HIA) in Huntsville, Alabama.

The FAA has already granted a launch site license to the Houston Airport System (HAS), allowing the launch of reusable vehicles from Houston. HAS was only the 10th location to be granted such a license. SNC has worked with HAS for more than a year to aid in the submitting of their license and to assess the feasibility of landing Dream Chaser in Houston, home of NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

SNC is also working with the city of Huntsville to assess the feasibility of landing the Dream Chaser spacecraft at the Huntsville International Airport, a public-use airport. Huntsville plays a significant role in the national and global space community.

“Dream Chaser is poised to lead the commercial space industry in reusable, low-Earth orbital flight,” said Mark N. Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s Space Systems. “The benefits of multiple landing sites could be significant to both the landing site community and to the Dream Chaser network of domestic and international partners. With each preferred landing site designation, comes a greater opportunity to make commercial space an accessible reality.”

The Dream Chaser spacecraft requires only 10,000-foot or longer runways and does not have any onboard toxic consumables, including propellants. Therefore, the vehicle has very limited environmental impact and affords immediate post-landing access to the spacecraft.

Back in June of this year the Dream Chaser spacecraft was tested at NASA’s Ames Research Center and Johnson Space Center under reimbursable Space Act Agreements. The tests provided critical data needed to support the upcoming Subsystem Critical Design Review of the Thermal Protection System (TPS) material being used to provide protection for crewmembers and cargo on the Dream Chaser from high temperatures the craft will experience during re-entry. The tests also validated the Dream Chaser TPS manufacturing readiness. Additional certification tests are planned on the thermal protection system at the Ames Research Center and Johnson Space Center in the fall of this year.

More than 100 arc jet cycles and radiant heat tests were completed at Johnson’s Radiant Heat Test Facility (RHTF) and Ames’ Aerodynamic Heating Facility (AHF). RHTF provided results supporting thermal characterization of the developmental TPS materials. The test data were then used for thermal modeling, analysis and TPS sizing. The Ames AHF arc jet tests were performed as a second phase in the development testing to gauge the material performance in environments simulating Dream Chaser flight conditions.

Valuable arc jet test results support SNC’s certification of the manufacturing capability of a high-temperature material called TUFROC. TUFROC will be used on the high-temperature nose and wing leading edges of the Dream Chaser spacecraft. The TUFROC test articles were manufactured in Kennedy’s historic Thermal Protection System Facility to SNC’s specifications as part of the TUFROC technology transfer from Ames to SNC.

In addition, to the TUFROC testing, arc jet cycles and radiant heat tests in high-heating, simulated re-entry environments were conducted to measure the thermal performance of new silica tile coating developed by NASA and SNC. SNC’s assessments show that these new coatings offer the same thermal protection as previously flown tile coatings, but at a greatly reduced cost.

The Dream Chaser spacecraft is the only reusable, lifting-body, low-g, and horizontal runway-landing spacecraft in the world capable of crewed and unscrewed transportation. The crewed variant has been under development in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program since 2010.

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