Starliner and Dream Chaser Updates

Technicians for Boeing are deep into construction inside of the former Space Shuttle Orbiter Processing Facility bay 3 (OPF3), that has been renamed the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF).  Boeing technicians are performing leak checks on the propulsion system for the hot fire of the Service Module.  The module will be shipped out to White Sands for the test at the end of the year.  This hot fire test is a crucial test for the unmanned mission planned for June 18th of next year.  Mating together of the upper and lower dome is scheduled for August 14th and will mark the completion of a major construction process of the first space-bound Starliner capsule.

The launch vehicle that will launch the Starliner and her crew into space will be ULA’s (United Launch Alliances) Atlas 5 rocket.  There has been a swap in first stages that was supposed to fly the opening Starliner mission.  Atlas-082 was supposed to fly the mission, but has been switched to Atlas-080 for reasons that were not disclosed.  The crewed launch of a Starliner will take place two months after the June 18th uncrewed flight to sometime in August.  I read that that date may slip to the right due to NASA’s desire for optimum time for a crewed Starliner to dock with the International Space Station.

SNC’s (Serra Nevada Corp) Dream Chaser spacecraft has been flown out to California to prepare for free-flight tests later this year.  The craft will first go through tow testing that will get the craft going fast enough to activate it’s flight contol systems while being attached to a heavy duty vehicle.  The free-flight test will occur this fall or later when the helicopter to release Dream Chaser becomes available.  The drop test will see Dream Chaser released round 10,000 feet and will land on autopilot on a runway at Dryden Research Facility.  While SNC lost out on the crew contract to the International Space Station, NASA did select the company to use an uncrewed version of the space craft.  This craft will have the cockpit removed and retrofitted to carry pressurized cargo in the craft itself, and unpressurized cargo that will be attached to an exterior “trunk” that will be filled up with trash and other expendable cargo and will be jettisoned and will burn up in the atmosphere while the Dream Chaser will land on the runway at the Shuttle Landing Facility at Kennedy Space Center, Florida.  The first launch of the SNC spacecraft was supposed to occur sometime in 2019, but it looks like it will slip into 2020 due to ISS traffic.  As of this writing, NASA has not given SNC a mission to fly on the second round of cargo resupply contract, only Orbital/ATK has been given a mission to work towards as of this writing.

The launch vehicle that will loft the Dream Chaser into orbit, at least on it’s first two missions in 2020 and 2021) will also be ULA’s Atlas 5, but this variant of the Atlas 5 will be the most powerful (AtlasV 552) with 5 solid rocket boosters.  The Dream Chaser will be around 20 tons when fully loaded and will require the most powerful version of the rocket.  The lifting body spacecraft will be able to deliver around 12,000 pounds (5,500 kilograms) of food, clothing, scientific equipment, hardware and other necessities to the International Space Station.

In my opinion, I am a huge fan of this vehicle because it’s more futuristic looking than the run-of-the-mill capsules that NASA and the other companies are going with.  I understand the reasons that it’s safe and simple design, but capsules are extremely limited.  A word that has been floated around about this vehicle is “sexy”, and that is definitely the word that I think of when I think of Dream Chaser.  I am hoping this vehicle’s usage will be greatly expanded and that it’s crewed version will be resurrected and can carry people one day.

On June 21st marked 6 years since Space Shuttle Atlantis landed in Florida seconds before 5:58 a.m., ending the space shuttle program and America’s ability to launch astronauts into space.  America has been paying Russia over 70 million dollars per seat on the Soyuz, so that’s hundreds of millions of American tax dollars that was outsourced to Russia over the last 6 years.  Finally, with years of under funding from Congress, especially in the early, critical years, we’re close to ending that reliability next year.  It’s a long time coming, and hopefully everything will stay on course for SpaceX’s Dragon 2 spacecraft followed by Starliner to begin crewed flights to the International Space Station by summer of next year.

I left out SpaceX in this article because I am planning an article on what they are working on in a later article.