June 8th, 2012
08:01 AM ET

Is Dream Chaser the new space shuttle?

Will we ever get a space plane? Read our responses to some of the comments this story received.

Have you been listening to all the kvetching and tooth-gnashing about America paying Russia $65-to-$70 million for each astronaut to ride to the space station?

You should hear what people at NASA and elsewhere in the U.S. aerospace industry are telling their friends:  They're embarrassed - even angry - that the guys who won the Cold War space race are no longer in the driver's seat.

Why, oh, why, they moan, did Washington end the shuttle program before building a replacement? How fast can the United States develop a new machine to deliver Americans into orbit so they can make scientific and technological breakthroughs?

How fast? Last month, less than a year after the final space shuttle mission, a SpaceX unmanned Dragon became the first private spacecraft to reach the orbiting space station.

But you probably knew that. Here's what you may have missed: A few days after SpaceX's triumph, a winged mini-space shuttle took to the air in its first flight test.

Wait. What? There's a new space shuttle in development?

Yep, it's called Dream Chaser. And it's made to fly on laughing gas.

But more on that in a second.

During the May 29 aerodynamic test, Sierra Nevada Corp. engineers hung the company's 25,000-pound spacecraft from a helicopter flying about 10,000 feet above Jefferson County, Colorado.

"It performed perfectly and did exactly what our team designed it to do," said Col. Jim Voss, a retired NASA astronaut and Sierra Nevada's vice president of space exploration systems.

Perhaps many folks who don't closely follow the space industry are completely unaware of this sleek orbiter.

Like NASA's shuttle, Dream Chaser is reusable. It's also got wings that allow it to fly back to Earth. But it's a lot smaller. Unlike the shuttle, it's designed to blast off on top of an Atlas V rocket, carrying up to seven astronauts to the orbiting space station.

Then, if everything goes as planned, the thing is supposed to use its onboard rockets to cross into the atmosphere and land on a conventional runway.

Among the several firms competing to be NASA's new astronaut taxi, Dream Chaser is the only system with wings, according to Sierra Nevada.

Why aren't more people aware of Dream Chaser? "We're pretty quiet as a company," Voss said. Sierra Nevada develops special aircraft for the Defense Department and devices for communication and intelligence gathering, Voss said. "Because of that, I think the company has just not felt like it has needed to do a bunch of advertising."

A few quick Dream Chaser tidbits:

  • Its engine system is a hybrid. It burns a solid tire-like rubber called HTPB (hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene) and nitrous oxide. That's right, laughing gas, the same stuff some dentists use to kill the pain when you get a tooth pulled or a root canal. "We picked this system because it is the safest possible configuration there is," Voss said. "But you don't get as much performance per pound of fuel that you use."
  • The Dream Chaser is based on a design concept that was originally developed decades ago by the Soviets. NASA reverse engineered it to learn how it worked. Sierra Nevada is using that engineering information to develop the spacecraft.
  • It can go from roll-out to the launch pad in as fast as two hours, according to Sierra Nevada.
  • During re-entry, it's designed to inflict on passengers a very light g-force of 1.5 times gravity, which will make it less likely that passengers would blackout.

Dream Chaser is just one of several systems being developed by private firms in hopes of winning additional NASA funding.

Also in the mix with Sierra Nevada and SpaceX is Boeing, which is developing a spacecraft of its own - a capsule-based vehicle called CST-100, which it tested in a Nevada helicopter drop  last month. Capsules are less complicated than a winged craft, but they have fewer landing options. To deal with that, SpaceX plans to develop a capsule that can land with rockets.

Although SpaceX is widely seen as leading the pack in this private space race, insiders say it's too early to know whether Sierra Nevada or Boeing poses a threat. It's hard to know which systems will be the most reliable, the cheapest and most efficient.

"I don't know if you'd call it a space race," Voss said. "But we're the only competitors with a vehicle that will physically fly back to runway, so we think we're in a good position to provide the type of transportation that NASA will want for their crews."

More than a few data-head aerospace engineers acknowledge they have a romantic soft-spot for a winged spacecraft so reminiscent of NASA's shuttle.

So what's the next giant leap for Dream Chaser? Autonomous flight.

This August or September, Voss said, they'll drop the spacecraft from a powerful helicopter above California's Edwards Air Force Base.

Perhaps a military CH-46 Sea Knight or CH-47 Chinook might be brought in to let Dream Chaser spread its wings from as high as 20,000 feet. If all goes well, this bird will fly on its own for the first time, before it glides to a landing.

So what do you think? Is Dream Chaser going to follow NASA's shuttle and become the next generation's icon for U.S. space travel?

Or will a capsule-based system like SpaceX's or Boeing's win the race?

Or perhaps you think all of this is a giant waste of time, money and effort. Share your thoughts by writing a comment below.

Post by:
Filed under: Hardware in Orbit • In Space • News
soundoff (149 Responses)
  1. shonpolack

    Sorry, I have not any experience about space shuttle but I have a great experience of land transport shuttle services especially in city of Auckland. I had visited many times and always use a good shuttle services and it is http://www.expressshuttle.co.nz/Book_a_shuttle.php which provides door to door travel services in Newzealand. The bookings are available in very suitable packages. If you want to try us you can visit here.

    March 16, 2013 at 2:32 am |
  2. nokia

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    November 3, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  3. Douglas

    It is time to shift to a new paradigm. I think NASA's new space shuttle can go farther and faster if powered by fusion reactors.

    June 30, 2012 at 12:18 am |
  4. Greg B. Goble

    NASA on what is popularly known as Cold Fusion
    see LENR the Realism and Outlook by Dennis Bushnell Chief Scientist NASA Langley

    Electrical current without generators using cheap abundunt safe nuclear dense LENR fuels will enable next generation space-planes to use magnetic controlled plasma drives with a thrust 400 magnitude greater than chemical.

    June 26, 2012 at 1:30 am |
    • Michael Eason

      If you honestly think when we decided to retire the Space Shuttle program that we did not already have Space planes built tested and fully functional then that's exactly what the government is counting on ( We are not talking about the joke of a story/pictures of the X-37 series that require rockets that has been around for a LONG time) Example: You think the Goverment is going to allow a privateer (Richard...Ahem...Virgin) to have procession of the first commercial inter-stellar orbital plane you are sadly mistaken. The picture your seeing (not Dream Chaser) but of the X-37 is a scrapped program that they are allowing people to see to cover up the real advances that have been made. Its common sense.....really...there just going to stop the Shuttle program and hitch-hike trips with Russia and such.....how foolish are you.

      October 6, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  5. Guy H Dods

    Surely the industry is going "backwards"! We had rockets being blasted into space, then being parachuted back to earth, landing in the ocean, 50 years ago!! What is now required is an air/space craft that can takeoff from a runway, fly to the edge of space(as Yeager did eons ago!), then get rocketed into space. Return to earth exactly like the Shuttle! What's the problem? These technologies are all known about, have already been proven, and we are going back to "rockets landing in the sea"! Surely those that "really" know, now realise that humans will never be able to survive in space, may be better for us "earthlings" to look at our oceans as a better bet!

    June 14, 2012 at 1:12 am |
    • Joe Hunt

      Just as cars do essentially the same thing as they did in 1920 spacecraft do essentially the same thing as they did in 170. The difference is going to be cost and reliability. Shuttles cost almost one half billion dollas a lunch. Space X is developing 3 fully reusable stages and a reusable space capsule. Sierra Nevada is developing a small, winged,reusable spacecraft which will launch on an inexpensive expendable rocket. These are not your fathers spacecraft.

      June 27, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  6. pinball702

    What's the big deal? Look at this. "The U. S." is ahead of the game. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2154405/Secret-mission-accomplished-Americas-secret-space-plane-land-YEAR-orbit–knows-did-there.html

    June 12, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • pinball702

      I forgot to add the reason for the quotation marks. Landing at Vandenburg, it looks like an Air Force project. So...there's new and secret interest in space? Hmm...

      June 12, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  7. Scott

    This Dream chaser design looks a lot like the proposed ISS crew return vehicle. Is this how the program first began developing the mini shuttle design? I like dream chaser a lot and will be excited to see this bird fly.

    June 12, 2012 at 9:40 am |
  8. DMB, Atlanta, Ga


    June 11, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • Kosmoscanyon

      GOOD POINT. However, NASA knew ahead of time that they were a year off from Spacex taking over the reins, so it didn't really matter to them. They had enough supplies to last the year on board ISS. Also, Nasa is switching over to year long ISS missions to reduce the costs of using Russian rockets. In the end I predict Nasa will be using Space x for heavy lift cargo, and Dream chaser for personnel lifting. I don't see an advantage for Boeing at this time.

      October 8, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  9. realitybites

    Wasn't too excited about the shuttle when it 1st appeared. Yay, we sent a giant commercial looking aircraft spaceship into orbit to do "research" for years. Tell me when you can spend time and effort on getting something like to the orbit of Mars and I'll get excited.

    June 11, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  10. anthrobotic

    Boldly Going to Low Earth Orbit Only?
    People loved the Space Shuttle because even though it was just a fancy orbiter in space, and a hitchhiking glider in atmosphere, it looked like a ship. We've been at the whole space thing for nearly 60 years, and still we have rockets and capsules, but no spaceships. That seem right to you? http://goo.gl/RGMFe

    June 9, 2012 at 2:52 am |
    • Edmar

      Tiene razon el de arriba,la vida en el esapcio no tenemos porque darla por hecho segun nuestros criterios o lo que conocemos,ya que todavia hay muchisimas cosas que no conocemos,pd:al de arriba,si,te estas saliendob4b4 del tema xD

      August 3, 2012 at 5:14 am |
  11. LuisM

    We won't really be a space faring nation until we have a rocket with wings and uses electric trubo props using a nuclear batter power source for re-entry. Gliding to land will never be a profitable system.

    June 8, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
  12. nsaidi

    Hey there - check out some of the featured comments from this story. There was a great discussion here!


    June 8, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  13. Dave

    I know the kiddos need inspiration, but what the adults could use is a long term plan with some sort of benefit (and not necessarily in only economic terms). The ISS is supposed to be pushed into the ocean in 2020. So, will these vehicles be used to repair satellites? Will they push debris out of orbit? Will they administer death rays in accordance with a government's kill list? Will it be used to construct a mars mission vehicle or a generational ship? If this technology is for dominance rather than progress, I'm far less excited about it. And, color me pessimistic, but my guess is the military utility outweighs the peaceful purposes by about twenty-to-one.

    June 8, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  14. Grinchi

    Mining chunks of rock in space will be quite profitable for those that already have plans in place. People have already laid claims on these chunks of rock with valuable metals. Once mining gets started, a whole new field of work will be made available for the daring that hop on the band wagon. Construction of mining freighters in outer space will be next. These could be built here and launched using a rail gun type launch system. Then assembled using robots and human assistance. There is gazillions worth of valuable metals and chunks of ice waiting to be mined that are near enough to earth to make it worth while. Remote control a rocket that anchors to these chunks of rock and bring them to a near earth orbit to be mined. This is what will fuel and pay for these projects.

    June 8, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  15. whybs

    Dearm Chaser has many attractive features – 2 hour launch prep; reusable; 1.5G

    HTPD (hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene; tire-like materials) is nasty stuff! Got to change it to something safer.

    June 8, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  16. Wish I could go

    A similar situation was occuring when the New World was discovered. Exploration and exploitation was financed by the royal families and governments of Europe. It was hideously expensive and dangerous to go on the expeditions, and there was a lot of recrimination and accusation about wasted money to send ships to explore. Then gold, silver, gems, and other riches were discovered. Though the governments kept sending people, the private sector elbowed its way in, and soon the vast majority of ships plying the seas between Europe, the New World, and Asia were privately-owned. Space is the next frontier. The microgravity of orbit is a perfect environment for the manufacture of precision products. The moon is just waiting to be mined, and other planets await. NASA has done a good job leading the way, but their philosophy of "Get it done, no matter what the cost" will now turn to a more reasonable "Get it done efficiently, at a resonable cost" philosphy of private industry. For a long time we were led to believe that only NASA had the experience and knowledge to go to space. What we forgot is that NASA is just the governing agency. Every single satellite, every single manned craft, and every single rocket used to lift the handiwork into space has been built by private industry. It's time for NASA to move over and let those who know what they're doing take over.

    June 8, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • Buck

      "It's time for NASA to move over and let those who know what they're doing take over" Right, because NASA had no clue what it was doing when we landed on the moon, improved manned spaceflight through the Space Shuttle program, and built the International Space Station.

      June 8, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
      • Dave

        Could you miss a valid point any more completely? NASA is an administration, and the vast majority of technology and know-how was developed by the private sector corporations. All deserve credit, including NASA for its role, but if anyone is walking around thinking "NASA did it", they don't have all their oars in the water. (But I will give NASA full credit for the O-rings debacle.)

        June 8, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
      • pinball702

        What? 'American Space'? TransUniverse spacelines? Yeah, "Oh and don't forget to add 1,000,000 Federation Credits for your luggage."

        June 12, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
  17. Athiest

    It's going to come down to cost and capacity.

    The dream chaser sure looks slick. But will require a larger rocket to boost it into orbit then the dragon.
    Then capacity/cargo, mission capabilities, etc. of the two need to be compared.
    And finally what are the recovery and re-use costs. It's probably a much cheaper recovery to have it fly back to an airport instead of to the middle of the ocean.
    Who knows, maybe both will get selected for use for different missions. It's not a bad thing to have multiple companies working on different technologies. Hopefully good things happen for us.
    We need to get back into space and get back on track. Space travel will ignite the imaginations of the young and many will want to become scientists, engineers, and many other fields we need more in.
    That will be a lot better then having kids with baggy clothing who aspire to be a teen mom.

    June 8, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Mattyj

      While we could have done without the last sentence, the next-to-last sentence was very, very spot on. Getting kids interested in math and science isn't about testing, standards, etc. It is all about saying "look at what we can do with this! If you work hard you could fly in space someday!"

      June 8, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  18. Hbattjr44

    Flag in picture (3) is backwards in picture

    June 8, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • Renegade

      Of course it isn't backwards. It's just the other side.

      June 8, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • Paqrat137

      I thought so also, but it turns out the the USA flag is displayed with the blue field towards the front of a vehicle, and as MOF, look at the right shoulder of a uniform, you'll find it that way also. Sounded strange to me when I heard it.

      June 8, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • goodjob

      Ever see the right side of a soldiers uniform below his shoulder? The flag is backward since its supposed to appear as flowing as the soldier is moving forward. Same thing here.

      June 8, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
      • Eric

        The flag is only worn that way in times of war, as in the Stars leading into battle. In times of peace, it is worn the other way.

        June 8, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
      • Paul

        As a matter of fact you are correct being a member of the military the flag is worn like that in peace and war and the reason for this is to show the flag waving in the air it is pretty cool to see that people who know what they are talking about. but as far as the whole new space shutte goes hopefully they get everything right before the first flight because we really dont need another accident like back in the 80s or what just happened a couple years ago with the shuttles.

        October 13, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
    • JJK

      No it's not. On the starboard side of a craft the flag flies right to left and on the port side it flies left to right

      June 8, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • pinball702

      boo hoo.

      June 12, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  19. Brickell Princess

    Congress ended NASA's space shuttle program because NASA was wasting billions in tax payer dollars doling out sweet deals to their private contractors. NASA is nothing but a good ole boys club where friends of friends get their pockets lined with tax payer money. Case in point how NASA dished out $1 BILLION dollars to United Space Alliance, a private contractor, so that they could provide their private sector employees (NASA shuttle contractors) with a lavish retirement. A lavish retirement that you or I working in the private sector will never EVER get to enjoy. There is a reason why NASA is the way that it is and that reason is because NASA is dysfunctional and tax payer dollars cannot continue to fund NASA's good 'ole boys club.

    June 8, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Buck

      I just don't understand why folks like you seem to think NASA is a waste of tax payer dollars. Their programs provide jobs and do in fact benefit the economy in multiple ways. Sure NASA could do things better, but they aren't at all at fault for any of our economic problems. So please, get yourself an education and focus your hate elsewhere. How about complaining the wars in the mideast for example? In 2011 it was made public that one year of just air conditioning costs in Afghanistan and Iraq was more than NASAs annual budget. And how did those wars benefit the economy? You need to get a clue Princess.

      June 8, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  20. hasc

    I have to admit I was one of the original "kvetchers" when they terminated the Space Shuttle Program. However, after seeing the innovations that private industry is producing, I have come full circle and realize that we need to privatize in order to compete with the Russians. The Russians have been launching space vehicles for profit now for over a decade. They have come a long way since the communist days. They have caught on to capitalism so well that they are beating us at our own game. Government run programs simply can not compete.

    June 8, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • Mattyj

      I have made the same turnabout (I didn't know about the test until my friend called me and told me he saw something that looked like the space shuttle being carried by a helicopter over Arvada, CO).

      However, I don't think that the space program would have been started with out massive government involvement. So let's give credit where credit is due. Government is often willing to take risks that private industry is not. When it pays off, the door is open for private development, and that is what is awesome about our system!

      June 8, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  21. dude

    Nobody hears about this because it is developed for the defense department. It is a really sad day when the defense department is developing our space technology instead of NASA.

    The original space shuttle was much smaller on the drawing board, until the defense department asked them to double the size. It made the craft much more expensive to build and operate, and the extra space was rarely (ever?) used.

    June 8, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • Matt

      Actually, this is being developed by the Sierra Nevada Corporation.

      June 8, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  22. Pat

    I like it how at least three companies are developing the next generation. It will help keep costs down. And who's to say all three (or more) won't win....

    June 8, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • Dave

      Which is consistent with the first rule of government financing. Why buy one when you can get three for thrice the price?

      June 8, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  23. rocklandt

    " won the Cold War space race "

    why does noone in Russia aware that there was a race and u won? weird. .. I'd expect both parties to know about the race.

    Also – moon landing was a fraud- no human ever been to the moon, so don't tell us stories plz.

    June 8, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Mike

      Yep, moon landing was a fraud. So was the USSR. Didn't you know, Hollywood created the USSR to give the Shadow Government an excuse to raise taxes and collect vast sums of money in the development of nuclear weapons (which are also frauds; the films, effects, etc. were all created by the Shadow Government). In fact, if I'm not mistaken, I don't exist either.

      Save your conspiracy theories for your blogs. Moon landings happened, Holocaust happened, Kennedy was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, 9/11 was conducted by al-Qa'ida with no assistance or direction from the US Government.

      June 8, 2012 at 11:42 am |
      • Richard

        I'm with you except re: Oswald. It is inconceivable to anyone who has studied the evidence that Oswald, acting alone, assassinated Kennedy.

        June 8, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      12 men have been on the moon. You'd really have to be a conspiritaorial fool to believe otherwise.

      June 8, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • Buck

      The only peoeple that believe we didn't land on the moon are those that refuse to educate them on the subject. Just why do you believe it didnt happen? Or are you simply trolling?

      June 8, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Doc Who

      Everyone in Russia knows USSR won glorious space race, comrade. Moon landing was capitalist Hollywood fake, we all see fOJ Simpson cavorting on fake moon.

      June 8, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • Fug Xu

      LOL The moon landing was a ruse? Choke yourself. Oh, and like JC said...don't breed.

      June 8, 2012 at 11:58 am |
      • whatMoon

        off course we landed on the moon, that's why we haven't been able to do it in the last 4 decades because our technology was more superior when we first landed. Has any one of you read up on why we can't go to the moon today? apparently we can't seem to overcome things like landing on a surface with varied gravity, radiation in space etc which were not an issue at all 4 decades ago. Logic obviously evades most people. You have been fed a lie and you keep digesting crap.

        June 8, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • JPC

      Now that's funny right there.

      June 8, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Lety

      It's hard to believe that the space shtlute is retired. When I was a boy they predicted that the moon would be colonized by the time I was 30 and there would be space vacations. Now, years later the shtlute is being retired and it strikes a reality chord. We just aren't ready for that. Goodbye, space shtlute, for now.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:23 am |
  24. james

    Why not just use a giant rubber band?

    June 8, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  25. mrprez

    Seems the author of this article already made up his mind and bends the story to meet his opinion. The ability to safely launch and return human beings to and from space is no easy matter. All of the technology used by both space x and sierra nevada is no more "commercially" developed than any vehicle previously used. Every vehicle ever launched from the U.S. has been designed and built and launched by civilian contractors. In the case of the Sierra Nevada space plane it is a rehash of a Nasa design from the 80's called HL-20. To report as done here that it is innovative private design is lazy at best, diengenuous at worst.

    June 8, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • Rick Papo

      "No more commercially developed" – – True, to a point. The major difference between SpaceX and everybody else is that they set out, from the start, to do it more efficiently and cheaply. They make virtually everything themselves rather than pay the scalper's rates normal space contractors charge. SpaceX took existing designs from NASA (which are freely available to anyone without charge), and with NASA aiding and abetting them, took those designs and made them simpler and more rugged. Rather like the difference between Ferraris and the older LandRovers. Greater reliability and lesser cost through (relative) simplicity. Add in standardization and mass-production of parts, stir well until blended, and there you go!

      June 8, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • cja

      The difference is that in the past NASA ooinly contracted for some hardware. They were delivered a rocket and then NASA integrated it with a payload and then operated both. Now NASA buys a service.

      A car analogy. NASA used to buy engines and chassis and tires and seats and then assemble a car, hire a driver. Now what they do is pay someone to have a box delivered.

      June 8, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  26. Richp

    I just think we need to get away from more flying soup cans and get back to real aircraft. Look at the X37B the air force is now flying, that is where we need to head.

    June 8, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • Rick Papo

      Google on "X-37", and you should find details about a scaled up version that Boeing has proposed for use in carrying passengers. Keep in mind, though, that Boeing is also working on a capsule, the CST-100, which is basically a clone of the Orion capsule NASA was working on.

      The big problem with spaceships with wings, though, is simply the extra weight, which cuts into what you can carry up into space for money. They're cool, but very inefficient.

      June 8, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  27. Nick

    I hope the Dream Chaser wins the contest and becomes the next commecial space venture to succeed. In my opinion reverting back to a capsule system will do just that, take us a step backward...we need to continue forward with winged reusable spacecraft, those which can fly and land on runways, not plop into the ocean, which then required an inordinant amount of support equipment to fulfil its mission.

    June 8, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  28. JD

    After hearing so many people whine about how much NASA costs for space shuttles and the space program I think it's logical that we outsourced (for far less money) to have the Russians send our astronauts into space. Which way do you want it people. Less government spending or a space program that is all U.S. run and operated? You can't have it both ways. It's expensive.

    June 8, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • bigbluedart2

      The route they are currently running is actually looking even cheaper than the Russians, though. These private firms look to really cut costs for NASA.

      June 8, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Maestro Geek

      You say "you people" like everyone got together and said "No more spending money on space flights!" There was no consensus at the time the decision was by Bush, just as there has never really been a consensus by the public on space exploration. There have always been those that have complained it's a waste of money, and those that say it's a worthy endeavor. To say "you people" makes it sound like the whole country changed it's mind back and forth on the topic.

      June 8, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  29. bigbluedart2

    What I'd like to see is for multiple options to be available. However, there is really only currently one customer for manned space flight, and they won't be able to fund them all. I wonder if a market will develop at some point that has a more general manned space flight need?

    June 8, 2012 at 10:50 am |
  30. Jimi

    It looks like Crichton's ship from "Farscape"


    June 8, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • bigbluedart2

      What was the name of that ship? Oh, yeah! It was Farscape.

      June 8, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • earplay

      Hmmm... wonder where he got the idea.

      June 8, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  31. mercenary76

    as long as it is a private company it should work without the huge cost overruns

    June 8, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  32. Scott

    The winged design is great for transporting people. The coolness factor will generate interest and pride in the program. It also is far nicer to land at an airport and disembark than to splash down in an ocean and await rescue. And to think this is just the first working version, just imagine how good these things are going to get in the future. Private enerprise will throw the american space program light years ahead of other nations, in no time.

    June 8, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • Dude

      Like the Russian Soyuz, the capsules currently in development are designed to parachute to dry land. Once in the ocean, the cost to refurbish a capsule for re-use is too high. A land return requires more precise re-entry and better parachutes, but they plan to re-deploy the capsules multiple times.

      However, that will involve far more than 1.5 Gs, which will be a major issue for people who have been in space for 6 months. If we go to Mars, the total mission time will likely be 2-3 years with the first and last 6-9 months being in nearly 0Gs. They will need a gentler return to Earth and some rehab.

      June 8, 2012 at 11:18 am |
      • Mars zero G trip

        Why are we still trying to fit a round peg in a square hole as far as zero G space travel goes. We know how to build artificial gravity ships with centrifugal force. One of the biggest roadblocks to planetary travel is easily solvable.

        June 8, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Doc Who

      But then the astronauts have to be screened by TSA.

      June 8, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  33. Jt_flyer

    In my opinion this will be the most exciting time in space exploration since Apollo. Hold on this is going to be a wild ride.

    June 8, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  34. Steve

    Commercial aviation is a major industry today. It started out very small, assisted partly by some government funding just as this is.

    June 8, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  35. Crichton

    From the front, it looks just like the capsule from Farscape. Anyone for a slingshot maneuver?

    June 8, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  36. Jt_flyer

    I can't believe launching a rocket vertically' from the surface of the earth, with the added weight of landing gear ,etc. is efficient . I can understand if it were launched from a jet aircraft using jet engines, similar to Virgins design.

    As far the romance of our over-rated, military space truck, the shuttle, I say get over it. The US has redirected its main focus back to deep space exploration. Where it belongs. And I- for one- couldnt be happier.

    June 8, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • Johm

      I think after you factor in lack of recovery costs vs added weight of landing gear it makes more sense. SpaceX is even looking at rocket stages that would fly back to base as opposed to space down.

      June 8, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • Mike Croth


      June 8, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • Jt_flyer

      I'm talking about the system not the capability. I know virgins system quite well. But thanks for your concern. Try to Think of it as a process. Not too hard you'll get a headache.

      June 8, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  37. WIlly

    The more options available to NASA the better and a ship that can go from roll-out to the launch pad in as fast as two hours could be a valuable standby rescue vehicle in a crunch. Cool!!!

    June 8, 2012 at 10:39 am |
  38. sumguy

    Isn't that the plane Steve Austin crashed in "The Six Million Dollar Man"?

    June 8, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • Otherguy

      Yup, that is NASA's secret plan – astronaut cyborgs. That outa' keep the Chinese communists off our backs!

      June 8, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Josh

      I don't think Steve flew anything called a Mig.

      June 8, 2012 at 10:42 am |
      • sumguy

        Come on Josh...I'm talking about the "dream catcher", scroll up!

        June 8, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  39. sewa

    MiG 105-11


    Project Spiral

    June 8, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • tu154b2


      June 8, 2012 at 11:01 am |
  40. Josh

    "The Dream Chaser is based on a design concept that was originally developed decades ago by the Soviets. NASA reverse engineered it to learn how it worked. "

    Turn about is fair play. The Soviets reversed engineered our Shuttle to build their Buran.

    June 8, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • Bill Duke

      Everything the Soviets had they stole from the Germans.

      June 8, 2012 at 10:32 am |
      • Josh

        That is equally true for America.

        The Apollo/Saturn program was all the German rocket scientist, Wernher von Braun, genius.

        June 8, 2012 at 10:40 am |
      • tu154b2

        As well as Americans 🙂 Fon Braun :)) does this name tell anything? :))) By the way look for "Burja" project ( I think in Yourtube "Burja Russian Aviatin" It was developed in parralell with Korolov's Sojuz spacecraft but Korolov was sucsessfull first an "Burja" was closed. Look closely at the design it looks like a space shutle but 30 years before and at least 20 + years before space shuttle was even on the drawing board :)))

        June 8, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  41. Josh

    "... and nitrous oxide. That's right, laughing gas, the same stuff some dentists use to kill the pain when you get a tooth pulled or a root canal."

    It might have been better to have made references to racing cars, like "nitro burning funny cars".

    June 8, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • jrg

      Top fuel dragsters use nitromethane not nitrous oxide.

      June 8, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • Chris Griffin

      I'm sorry, but you are confused. Laughing gas is otherwise known as Nitrous Oxide. Nitro Methane is what the top fuel funny cars and dragsters use for fuel. What you are trying to refer to is a bottle of NOS (nitrous oxide) which will greatly increase horspower in a gasoline burning engine.

      June 8, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  42. Adam

    Get it through your heads people. Your need government and private industry to work together! It is not one or the other. Nobody likes waste. Check the left and right nonsense at the door. There are certain things only government can do and there are things only private industry can do. The military used the internet and the sharing of information and communication long before we did. Now we get to use it for private, public, and entrepreneurial purposes. Same applies with space technology. Government has to be the tip of the sword, and industry forms behind it. Turning low earth orbit endeavors over to private industry is the next best step, now new industries can be created and NASA/Government can get onto the next best thing, deep space exploration. It is a symbiotic relationship.

    June 8, 2012 at 10:09 am |
  43. tez07

    Curious..... other than looking cool, what is the advantage of a glide return? Parachutes seem to have a great margin for error and thus be safer.

    June 8, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • Josh

      It really a splash down in the middle of an ocean, vs. landing on a runway.

      June 8, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • Chieftom

      It can be reused. Inspect it, refill the consumables (Nitro, O2, Solid Propellent ect.) and it is ready to go again.

      June 8, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Dem in Nebraska

      I think one of the major differences is in recovery costs. Splashdown requires manpower and equipment to lift the capsule out of the ocean, which means deploying various support ships and helicopters, and their crews, to the capsule. Then there is transport back, meaning fuel for aviation and ships, food for crew, and other logistics. You get the idea. Landing on an existing runway requires more effort from just the crew in the spacecraft, but less overall manpower needed on recovery since they basically come to you, not the other way around.

      June 8, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  44. Ser Scot

    Is the idea of a true "spaceplane" dead? I'd love to see a vehicle that could take off from an airport, fly to space, and return to an airport for a powered, not glider, landing.

    June 8, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • Adam

      We all would, but technology being what it is, there is no way to carry all the fuel necessary to reach orbit and carry out that kind of mission. That was why the shuttle had the tank and rocket boosters to achieve orbit. I think I read that the rockets burn an entire swimming pool's worth of fuel in less then a minute. And I doubt any pilot wants to be carrying even so much as a tank of fumes when reentering the earths atmosphere. We just aren't there yet.

      June 8, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • Scott

      The problem with that concept has always been about the compromises. If you want all of that in one aircraft, it'll cost billions, maybe trillions to create, and never pay for itself. Smaller, goal-oriented craft are cheaper, easier, and accomplish the same mission.

      June 8, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • gregory

      Not dead at all. Take a look at the Skylon spaceplane project being developed by the British. The key is the Sabre engine, "which can breathe air like a jet at lower speeds but switch to a rocket mode in the high atmosphere."


      Google "Skylon spaceplane project" for more.

      ... oh, and as far as coolness factor - Skylon wins over Dream Chaser, hands down.

      June 8, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  45. Snnacky

    Amazing technology, its the crazy ideas that actually turn out to be the real winners. Best of luck, hopefully this bird will fly

    June 8, 2012 at 10:00 am |
  46. Spaced UP

    I really think that there is enough need for all three companies to be profitable ferrying crews and supplies to the international space station. I am intrigued by the flexibility that a winged spacecraft provides.

    June 8, 2012 at 9:57 am |
  47. Bill Curtiss

    I think this is the only way to go. Getting the astronauts back to a lsnding strip makes sense, instead of crashing down in the middle of the ocean. An it looks like ti will have a lot more room for them, and be able to carry more people.

    June 8, 2012 at 9:57 am |
  48. DeweyV

    All the effort that Sierra Nevada has put into Dreamchaser is hinged on having only ONE airframe. They have only one spaceplane for everything, period. That seems risky to me . I'd hate to see the insurance premium. It took them most of a decade to fabricate it, and it's mostly handbuilt . All their eggs are in one untried carbon fiber basket... one little accident and yer S.O.L. At least Boeing built two of their X-37 spaceplanes for the Air Force.

    Meanwhile, SpaceX has a factory and assembly line for their synergistic line of boosters, engines, and capsules ( the latter are reuseable). Spaceplanes are way cool , but what practical working advantage do they really have over a reuseable Dragon capsule launched on a booster that costs 1/3rd what a military-industrial Atlas V costs . Oh by the way ... the Atlas V is built with rejigged RD-180 Russian engines .

    June 8, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • thompatterson

      Hi DeweyV,

      Great point!

      Just so you know, Col. Jim Voss, Sierra Nevada's space exploration technology chief, and an ex-astronaut who flew on the shuttle and the International Space Station, tells me there eventually will be at least two Dream Chasers as part of NASA's Commercial Crew and Development Program. Later, there likely will be more vehicles.

      The goal is to develop a commercial crew vehicle that can rotate space station crews to and from orbit every 3 to 4 months. Having at least two vehicles will allow that to happen more efficiently. Currently, the crew rotation for ISS is about every 6 months, Voss told me, because that's the schedule preferred by the Russians.

      Thanks for reading the article and weighing in.


      June 18, 2012 at 9:10 am |
  49. wed110197

    Well, at least if it crashes it won't hurt.

    June 8, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  50. Skeptic

    It looks jazzy and therefore will win the media war, but unfornately, it iwll never fly. It does not have the fuel capaciy nor areodynamic lift to ever get it off the ground or more importatnly to get it to the ground after a flight. I wish it would, but the capsule is what will win the day technically.

    June 8, 2012 at 9:53 am |
    • Nobody


      Didn't you read the article? It doesn't take off by itself. It's launched into space on top of an Atlas V rocket, then glides back to Earth and lands on a runway like an airplane. That avoids an expensive water-landing recovery like a capsule. The small rocket engines it has are for maneuvering in space and retro-fire.

      Do your homework before you comment.

      June 8, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • sumguy

      Why would it need lift? It launches on top of a rocket!

      June 8, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • Adam

      Skeptic... Read the article. Let me guess you write book reviews based on the cover. Unbelievable! Skepticism and ignorance are not the same thing.

      June 8, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • trollhunter

      I found one. Skeptic is trolling for attention. Now back under your bridge troll, and while you are down there try reading the article.

      June 8, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  51. Tom

    General Thayer – "American Industry led by Jim Barnes can put a ship on the moon in a year!" – Destination Moon (1950)

    About Damn Time!

    June 8, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • Adriano

      finya May 14, 2010 don't drop anything if I were you.. hahhaa.. every single cent that you will spend is I think will be worthwhile because it's not only the trip itself, its the culture there and your bonding with your friends and the feeling of being free from stressful manila that you are exchanging with your money!! Just enjoy being a traveler for a month! go aja!

      November 11, 2012 at 7:32 am |
  52. Mike

    These are all privately funded (or publicly traded) companies developing these platforms. I think they could each have a specific niche to fill and let the party that contracts with each determine which platform is right for their requirements...whether it is NASA, or a private company putting up a communications satellite, or ferrying 'guests' to a space based hotel...

    June 8, 2012 at 9:47 am |
  53. F.C. Miami

    We have plenty of ingenuity in this country. If given the chance we can do more in the next 20 years than in the last 60. The more options we have for our space progam the better. Way to go

    June 8, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • chris

      Agree 100%....We also should not be paying the Russians $65 million to take each of our astronauts to the space station. That almost sounds surreal. Thanks, but no thanks....pump some of that taxi money into some r&d and let the US determine when and where and how we put OUR astronauts into space. I cannot believe our government let this happen to NASA....to our space industry.....sad times, but who knows, we might be able to come up something even more spectacular! Way to go SpaceX and Sierra Nevada corporation. For all of you college grads with an engineering degree.....PLEASE.....stay working for a US company....we need all of you now more than ever, not just for space, but for our county!

      June 8, 2012 at 10:05 am |
      • stormy waters

        nasa used to charge other countries including russia to take their people into space...you can go to the space station by way of russia as a civilian for the same money ...you just cant enter the us side of the space station...they dont like civilians

        June 8, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  54. pbernasc

    it looks it's going to fall like a rock ... it sure looks cool

    June 8, 2012 at 9:40 am |
  55. Aviator_Guy

    JFK would be spinning in his grave knowing we pay the Russians for our current manned space program! It looks like this spacecraft might change that, but you must admit, it looks kinda looks like that test plane shown crashing on the 6 million dollar man TV show… And that didn't work too well… LoL

    June 8, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • sunman42

      There are tapes of Kennedy bemoaning the tremendous cost of the space program, and wondering whether we couldn't share some of the costs with other nations, including the Soviets. He realized the value of being first to land men on the moon, but he also realized there was no practical way to justify the expense of manned space flight. Let's hope one or more of these "contestants" is able to reduce it at least for runs to earth orbit.

      June 8, 2012 at 9:57 am |
  56. DB

    Great to see America back in the Space Race. Unless we keep up the momentum we will lose out. If people only realized how much of their lives have changed due to inovations from the Space Industry they would be amazed not to mention fully in support of this project.

    June 8, 2012 at 9:34 am |
  57. Rick Papo

    Regarding the gliding return test, I wonder why they don't just use one of the Burt Rutan launch planes used for SpaceShipOne, SpaceShipTwo and the Boeing X-37? They were built for this kind of testing, and fly far higher than any helicopter.

    June 8, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • The Truth

      With today's computer modeling capability they may only need data provided by this type of testing. I'm assuming its going to be an unpowered glider for return and landing so you only really need to study airflow characteristics at different angles, computer models can do the rest. Thats not to say the FAA will require them to do a full scale glide test before they qualify it.

      June 8, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • DAC

      It is a fraction of the cost to hire and use an FAA approved aircraft like a helicopetr to drop test this craft. There is no need to contract with another organization, and there is no need to engineer and modify the carrying aircraft.

      June 8, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • Lester

      From what I've read here and elsewhere (space.com, I think), you've got to keep in mind this was only a captive test to see how well it handled in the air. Sooner or later, there will be manned free flights, and who knows, maybe White Knight will be used as a mother ship.

      June 8, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  58. Alpha Centuri

    If you what creativity and efficiency, ge tthe government out of the way and let private enterprise at it.
    What I don't get though is the belief only one option will be used (i.e. the winner). Why not use a couple of different designs and use the one that fits the needs best – like capsules for cargo and Dream Chaser for people?

    June 8, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • beecee71

      yeah because nasa hasn't help space exploration at all. And once your private industry can't turn a profit one quarter and shuts down, where do you go?

      June 8, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • Sick

      Good points Alpha but I believe when you bring profit into engineering design, it dilutes the innovation that stems from design. While government contracts do act this way, I think space is something on a different level. Also why let the government get out of the way? I know everyone is bashing big government but you have some of the most brilliant people working at NASA. Simply put, the space shuttle program was a major success. Let's do it again.

      June 8, 2012 at 9:43 am |
      • thompatterson

        Hi Sick,

        Excellent point to bring up - regarding NASA participation in the design and development process - as commercial firms develop space crew vehicles.

        NASA's half-century of experience and expertise in space vehicle development is being fully utilized, says Sierra Nevada's space exploration technology chief - Jim Voss. He tells me the relationship between Sierra Nevada and NASA toward developing new vehicles is a partnership.

        "If we need to know something ... we can go directly to the world's best expert at NASA and ask them for information," Voss told me. Interestingly, a lot of the expertise and consulting that NASA does for these private firms is free.

        The companies receive NASA's help as part of their partnership. However, if Sierra Nevada or any of the other companies need to use NASA facilities for research or testing - such as a NASA wind tunnel for example - the companies must pay NASA to use the facility.

        But other than that, five decades of data and research accumulated by NASA during Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, SkyLab, and the space shuttle programs is all available to the private companies who are developing the new crew vehicles, Voss says.

        Thanks for reading the article!


        June 18, 2012 at 9:32 am |


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