Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Future of the Dream Chaser

Credit Ken Ulbrich/NASA
NASA has made its choices.  SpaceX and Boeing are in and Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) is out.  In their comments, NASA said that it was a hard choice.  I believe them.  The Dream Chaser was based on the HL-20, a NASA project.  This gives Dream Chaser good credibility.  So, what possible future could there be for a spaceship that needs someone to fly it?

It's an unprecedented situation in the world where a company has an almost ready made space ship but needs someone to fly it.  SNC has vowed to keep on with the project with possibly using it to compete for NASA's next round of cargo hauling to the ISS (see Denver Business Journal article).  In a Denver Post article, SNC said it will offer flight to anyone or even sell a space ship to anyone.  You can see they are trying their best to keep the project afloat.

Now, bear with me in some speculation.  I can think of two customer/buyers that would be in their interest to buy services or a craft.

European Space Agency (ESA) has for a very long time toyed with the idea of having their own manned access to space without relying on Russia or the United States.  They considered making a space plane they called Hermes a long time ago.  They are considering leveraging the ATV technology and making a capsule to launch on an Ariane 5 launcher.  They are currently about to launch a technology tester to test reentry systems known as IXV.  Why not just forgo development and buy a Dream Chaser?  They could take their astronauts to ISS and bring home experiments landing on a european runway.  Sounds like an opportunity Europe would be crazy to pass up.

Virgin Galactic (VG) is about to fly people to space.  Six people at a time get to fly to suborbital space in the new SpaceShipTwo space plane.  They get to experience weightlessness for 5 minutes and then come home.  A chance of a lifetime, nay, a chance never before offered,  What would be the next step?  Why orbit of course.  With a Dream Chaser, Virgin Galactic could take passengers to orbital space for a day or a week and then come home.  Up to six passengers can fit on board.  Then they can land on a runway just like SpaceShipTwo,  Heck, it can be the same runway.  Dream Chaser shares some technologies with SpaceShipTwo.  They have the same non-caustic hybrid engines, and they have the similar type of landing gear configuration.  They are both made out of carbon fibers and resin.

So here we are.  In an unprecedented situation in the history of commerce, a orbital space ship is offered to the world.  Isn't it exciting?  Will ESA and VG make an offer?  We have to wait and see how the market responds.  Is it too early for a commercial orbital space craft?  Does anyone really have the money to purchase?  It the answers are 'no' then SNC will probably store Dream Chaser for a future venture, hopefully.