Private Space Shuttle Clears Major Hurdle Before First Trip To Space

Sierra Space powered up their private space shuttle for the first time, the last hurdle before a live launch of the ingenious craft.

By Douglas Helm | Published

Sierra Space’s Dreamchaser shuttle

Sierra Space, a Colorado-based space tech company, powered up its Dream Chaser space shuttle for the first time in its assembly facility today. This is a big hurdle the shuttle needed to cross to get it spaceworthy, and now it seems Sierra Space is one step closer to launching it into low-Earth orbit for its inaugural mission. Sierra Space engineers conducted the test to simulate the power that the shuttle will draw from its solar arrays once it’s actually up in orbit.

The Dream Chaser is an advanced orbital space shuttle that will be equipped to carry people and cargo to stops like the International Space Station once it’s ready for launch. The specs for the spacecraft say that it will be able to carry up to 12,000 pounds of cargo. However, the Dream Chaser isn’t designed to enter orbit on its own, as it will be equipped with a ULA Vulcan Centaur rocket to get it up there.

However, Dream Chaser won’t need any help past that point, as the aforementioned solar arrays will keep it powered up while it is in low-Earth orbit. Once the space shuttle is ready to return back to terra firma, it is equipped to handle reentry into the atmosphere and land on a runway. As for when we might see the Dream Chaser take flight, the target launch date is reportedly by the end of 2023 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Of course, Dream Chaser’s first big flight will be a relatively simple one as Sierra Space truly tests out the space shuttle for the first time. The 2023 mission will be a contract with NASA where Dream Chaser brings cargo and supplies up to the International Space Station. However, Sierra Space also has crewed flights in mind, as the company hopes to charter some missions to its Orbital Reef space station, a station built in collaboration with Blue Origin.

NASA’s retired space shuttle, Endeavor

Before the Dream Chaser is ready for its first true mission, it will still have to undergo some testing. The first Dream Chaser space shuttle, dubbed Tenacity, will head to NASA’s Neil Armstrong Test Facility in Ohio next. At the Neil Armstrong Test Facility, they will be running Tenacity through thermal vacuum tests, which simulate a space environment by removing air and pressure while cycling through extreme temperatures.

If the Dream Chaser space shuttle gets the all-clear from the Neil Armstrong Test Facility, it will be shipped over to Cape Canaveral to undergo final checks before launching from the Kennedy Space Station. While Sierra Space hasn’t announced any official timelines for the upcoming tests and the launch, the company will undoubtedly keep the public updated as it approaches the finish line for its 2023 goal. Even if all goes well, there is still the testing of the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket to consider.

The United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket will launch an Astrobotic lunar lander later this summer. If all goes well, the Dream Chaser space shuttle will be the second planned launch for the Vulcan Centary rocket. We’ll have to wait and see if Sierra Space can pull it off.