Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) believes its Dream Chaser could be a viable alternative to the Boeing X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle for long-duration, recoverable experimentation in space.
The company says its vehicle, which is still in development, could be called upon to support the kinds of missions the US Air Force is currently conducting with the X-37B.
With an updated, folding-wing design unveiled earlier this year, SNC’s Dream Chaser can be launched inside a standard Atlas V or Delta IV payload fairing and can “stay on orbit well in excess of a year”, the company says.
SNC Space Systems corporate vice-president Mark Sirangelo says that while he cannot say what types of missions the Orbital Test Vehicle programme is trying to accomplish, Dream Chaser would be a larger and viable alternative to Boeing’s experimental spacecraft.
“We are not part of that programme, although we believe our vehicle can do many of those types of operations,” he said at the ISPCS commercial space conference in New Mexico on 8 October. “It is a larger vehicle that can stay on orbit for well over a year.”
Despite missing out on NASA’s commercial crew programme, which was won by Boeing and SpaceX, SNC is continuing development of the Dream Chaser and is exploring a variety of uses for the reusable, optionally-manned spacecraft, including cargo resupply to the International Space Station.
Boeing’s X-37B was launched for the fourth time in May, and has previously spent 674 days in space. The spacecraft is just under 3m (9.8ft) high and 9m long, and Boeing has proposed a scaled-up, potentially manned version.
Dream Chaser will move to the second phase of flight testing in the first quarter of 2016, and could be ready for operational service in late 2018, SNC says.
“Unfortunately I can’t go into it for a lot of reasons, but you can look at the vehicle and its capabilities and understand its possibilities here,” Sirangelo says. “We’re not blind and neither are the various people around us."