Dream Chaser spaceplane is off the manifest for ULA’s second Vulcan launch

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Dream Chaser’s Delay: A Setback for Sierra Space, A Boost for ULA’s Vulcan

Sierra Space’s ambitious Dream Chaser spaceplane has been removed from the manifest for United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) second Vulcan Centaur flight, marking a significant delay for the company’s inaugural mission. This decision, announced by ULA CEO Tory Bruno during a press conference, comes as a result of scheduling hurdles faced by Sierra Space, which deemed a September launch "significantly risky."

This delay, while disappointing for Sierra Space, provides a much-needed opportunity for ULA to solidify its own progress. The second Vulcan launch is crucial for the company, being the final hurdle before the powerful new rocket can be certified to carry out national security missions for the Department of Defense (DOD). ULA’s first successful Vulcan mission, which launched earlier this year, demonstrated the rocket’s capabilities, and this next launch is key to securing its place in the DOD’s launch services portfolio.

The decision to step aside from the ULA launch was a strategic move by Sierra Space, acknowledging the need to prioritize its own timeline and ensure a smooth debut for the Dream Chaser. Despite the setback, the company assures the public that Tenacity, its first Dream Chaser spaceplane, is still on track for its maiden mission by the end of the year.

"We’ve made a decision to step aside on this specific mission to allow ULA the necessary opportunity to meet its critical certification milestones," said Dr. Steve Lindsey, President and CEO of Sierra Space. "This will allow for a more robust launch profile for our first mission, ensuring a successful inaugural flight for Dream Chaser later this year."

This decision, however, does not signal a major blow to Sierra Space’s overall ambitions. The company is maintaining its commitment to the Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract with NASA, which aims to deliver essential cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). Tenacity, alongside its expendable Shooting Star cargo module, has already undergone stringent environmental testing and has been transported to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The spaceplane is currently undergoing final preparations for its inaugural flight, carrying a payload of 7,800 pounds to the ISS.

"We remain focused on delivering a payload for NASA and demonstrating the capabilities of the Dream Chaser vehicle," said Dr. Lindsey. "Our dedicated team is working diligently to complete final testing and prepare for launch later this year."

The Dream Chaser, a 30-foot-long spaceplane, boasts a unique horizontal landing capability, similar to NASA’s retired Space Shuttle. This design sets it apart from the vertical landings employed by other spacecraft like SpaceX’s Dragon or Boeing’s Starliner. The spaceplane is designed to deliver essential cargo for NASA’s ISS missions, and its maiden flight marks a significant milestone in the company’s long-term plans.

The delay, however, raises questions about the company’s ability to meet its initially projected schedule. Back in 2016, Sierra Space secured the CRS-2 contract from NASA with a projected launch date of late 2019. This delay, while understandable given the complexity of space flight, highlights the challenges inherent in ambitious space exploration projects.

The Dream Chaser’s first mission, however, is just the beginning of a wider program. Sierra Space also has a crewed version of the Dream Chaser in development, with aspirations to contribute to the growing private space station industry. The company is also developing inflatable habitat modules, which could potentially be used as independent space stations in low Earth orbit.

The delay of the Dream Chaser’s maiden voyage, a setback for Sierra Space, ultimately serves as a catalyst for further innovation. It allows the company to address any potential concerns, refine its technology, and ensure a smooth and successful debut for its groundbreaking spaceplane. The journey to space is often fraught with delays, but these challenges serve as valuable learning experiences that propel progress, paving the way for future achievements in space exploration.

Here are key takeaways from the article:

  • Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser spaceplane is delayed for ULA’s Vulcan launch due to scheduling issues.
  • ULA gains valuable time to achieve DOD certification for its Vulcan rocket.
  • Dream Chaser remains on track for its maiden flight before the end of the year, focusing on its CRS-2 mission with NASA.
  • The delay highlights the complex nature of space exploration projects and the challenges of meeting initial schedules.
  • Sierra Space continues to invest in its future with the development of crewed Dream Chaser versions and inflatable habitats.

This delay, while a temporary setback, reinforces the crucial role that both Sierra Space and ULA play in the future of space exploration. The Dream Chaser’s eventual launch, along with the continued development of Vulcan, represents a crucial step towards a more accessible and vibrant future for the commercial space sector.

Article Reference

Emily Johnson
Emily Johnson
Emily Johnson is a tech enthusiast with over a decade of experience in the industry. She has a knack for identifying the next big thing in startups and has reviewed countless internet products. Emily's deep insights and thorough analysis make her a trusted voice in the tech news arena.