A 2009 test flight of the Dreamchaser vehicle could follow a Spacedev, United Launch Alliance (ULA) four-month joint feasibility study examining the technical issues of its launch upon a Lockheed Martin Atlas V and the business case for a commercial service.

Under a memorandum of understanding (MOU) sigjned at the end of March the two companies are providing personnel to conduct the study that will include a compatibility analysis of integrating the Dreamchaser, Spacedev's vehicle based on NASA's HL-20, with a man rated version of the Atlas V 431 configuration.

The 431 configuration has a 4m (13.1ft) fairing, three solid rocket boosters and a single engine Centaur upper stage. However with the Dreamchaser atop the Atlas V there would be no fairing.

"We see three main markets, suborbital tourist flights, commercial orbital flights and government orbital and beyond flights. With this study we would have invested more than $5 million so far in Dreamchaser including its propulsion system," says Spacedev chairman and chief executive Mark Sirangelo.

Spacedev started discussing this co-operation with ULA last year but now the MOU agreed study will intensify the level of effort. The timetable is to conduct the feasibility study then decide to progress to preparation for the 2009 test flight, which if successful would lead to an operational system in the 2010 timeframe.

The ULA/Spacedev transportation system would then be offered to NASA for commercial contracts to supply crew and cargo to the International Space Station.

Spacedev had developed its Dreamchaser vehicle with the help of NASA's Ames and Langley research  centers during the selection phase for NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services demonstration programme. Spacedev was not selected for that programme.

The company is currently in the process of negotiating an unfunded space act agreement, that enables co-operation, with NASA's Johnson Space Center to help develop Dreamchaser.

Source: FlightGlobal.com