2011

As Shuttle Era Ends, NASA Still Chasing Dreams

This Friday, the Space Shuttle program is scheduled to launch its final flight. But as the shuttle era ends, new space vehicles continue to be developed -- even those that are not so new.

altIn 1982, a Soviet spacecraft was recovered from the Indian Ocean. Engineers at NASA’s Langley Research Center (Hampton, VA) used a model of that craft as the basis for the HL-20 personnel space vehicle. Today, Sierra Nevada is using an $80 million award to continue work on the “Dream Chaser” after it was judged among four winners of the second round of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program.

The Langley engineers had to reverse-engineer the original Soviet craft to get enough information to build a model and put it into a wind tunnel. Tests showed that the lifting body design could carry the plane through a range of speeds with little or no effect on control. From the reverse-engineering came more ideas, such as enabling the vehicle to land like an airplane. The HL-20 evolved, then stalled when NASA moved on to other things.

Then the design was back, with commercial interest. Sierra Nevada entered into a Space Act Agreement with NASA Langley, and agreements with six other NASA centers followed. Sierra Nevada has built its own test article and, next year, intends to drop-test it in the atmosphere, either from a helicopter or an airplane.

The Dream Chaser would ferry crews from Earth to the International Space Station and back. "After we retire the space shuttle, we will be relying on our international partners to provide this capability to and from the space station," said Lori Garver, NASA Associate Administrator. "In the not-too-distant future, we believe that we will have that U.S. capability to take American astronauts to and from the space station as we envisioned more than 20 years ago."

Click here to learn more about NASA Langley’s current projects and missions.

Click here to view a video of the Dream Chaser.

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