Written by Lieutenant Colonel E. Gagarin and Major I. Shipov; Originally appeared at Foreign Military Review #3 2019, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
The American company Dream Chaser (a division of “Sierra Nevada Corporation”) is proactively developing a reusable aerospace vehicle (RASV) Dream Chaser to deliver cargo and crews of up to seven people to the International Space Station (ISS). It will be launched from Cape Canaveral Space Center (Florida), using an Atlas-5 rocket.
Since January 2017 at the NASA Armstrong Flight Test Center (AFB Edwards) a flight prototype of the RASV has been undergoing testing. In particular, on November 11, 2017, a glide was successfully completed after 3.8 km drop from a helicopter and landing on the runway in automatic mode.
The Dream Chaser space plane has chosen the “carrier fuselage” scheme with three compartments: one central cargo or habitat and two onboard compartments, which will contain fuel tanks of fuel and oxidizer, as well as one cruise engine. The airframe is made of composite materials with third-generation ceramic thermal protection of the entire nose, front edge of the wing and keel, as well as the lower fuselage and wing.
Access to the central compartment of the RASV is through an oval hatch in the tail section with dimensions of approximately 1 m vertically and 0.9 m horizontally. The frame of the docking mechanism is approximately 1.2 m in diameter.
To control flight in the atmosphere there is one vertical all-round rudder on top of the fuselage and two inclined planes of straight sweep along in the sides (camber about 37º) with roll control rudders in the tail part of the appartus. In addition, in the rear part of the onboard compartments, two pairs of horizontal aerodynamic flaps are placed above and below, which change the pitch angle of the vehicle in flight or perform aerodynamic braking during the run by fully lifting them. The chassis is tricycle with a front sliding and rear wheel struts, which can be retracted into the internal compartments of the fuselage.
Landing will be executed as a plane on any runway with a length of at least 2.5 km. The approach is supposed to be performed not only in gliding mode, but also with the use of main engines, which will allow for active maneuvering and changing the flight speed if necessary. The plane-like landing of the RASV will also reduce the overload to 1.5 g per cargo returned from the ISS, which is important for the results of some on-going or completed experiments.
It is planned to create transport (unmanned) and manned modified space planes, which will differ in appearance, respectively, by the absence and presence of glazing in the nose of the central compartment. The transport RASV roll-up rudders are made collapsible, which will allow placing the space plane under the head fairing of the launch vehicle. The manned vehicle with the crew is planned to be launched into space without a fairing.
The launch of the RASV modified for transport is supposed to be carried out with a sealed cargo module docked, as well as non-sealed cargo containers attached to it. The module will be equipped with collapsible solar panels that provide the vehicle with electricity before descent from orbit. Furthermore, the module is supposed to be placed on the outside of the micro-spacecraft launched into low orbits, which will be undocked as necessary. When the vehicle returns to Earth, the module will be dumped before entering the atmosphere along with the external containers and unnecessary cargo inside.
Installing a module similar to the cargo module on a manned RASV, but with a set of special equipment and apparatus, will allow conducting reconnaissance of all types and performing other tasks, as well as performing orbital inspections. In particular, the Dream Chaser space plane is planned to be used for servicing the Hubble space telescope, as well as monitoring the technical condition and refueling of low-orbit spacecraft.
In early 2016, the RASV Dream Chaser was selected by NASA management by tender to participate in the second stage of the ISS supply programme CRS2 (Commercial Resupply Services 2), which will provide for at least six flights of the transport version of the RASV in 2020-2024.
The first flight of the flying apparatus with cargo is scheduled to take place at the end of 2020.
Thus, in the United States, the commercial development of a reusable vehicle is almost complete, on the basis of which it is planned to create transport and manned modified crafts. With the help of this vehicle, under contract of the manufacturer and NASA, it is planned to deliver cargo of various purposes and crews to the ISS and bring them down to Earth.
In the future, the possibility of using the Dream Chaser for military purposes for conducting various types of reconnaissance, support or combat operations in and out of space, as well as inspecting other spacecraft in the interests of external technical condition control, surveillance, suppression and destruction is not excluded.