If you miss NASA’s space shuttles, you might like the Dream Chaser.
The compact space plane carries no crew, but will transport cargo to the International Space Station in the years ahead and conduct other missions in orbit around the Earth. On Saturday, the vehicle completed an important milestone in its development.
A helicopter lifted Dream Chaser more than 2.3 miles off the ground, then dropped it. Over the course of one minute, the craft accelerated to 330 miles per hour, made a couple of turns and glided 10 miles to a runway at Edwards Air Force Base in California. It touched down at a speed of 191 miles per hour, rolling 4,200 feet before coming to a stop.
“The vehicle is in perfect shape, no issues,” Mark N. Sirangelo, the head of Sierra Nevada Space Systems, the maker of the Dream Chaser, said in an interview.
Mr. Sirangelo said he thought no more glide tests would be needed. If NASA agrees, the very next flight of the Dream Chaser might be a return from orbit two or three years from now at the end of a mission taking cargo to and from the space station. It is to land on the same runway at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida that the space shuttles once used.
Last year, NASA awarded Sierra Nevada a contract for at least six cargo flights.
The Dream Chaser is an autonomous, self-flying spacecraft, and this iteration will not carry any people. Saturday’s test demonstrated that the software that guides the vehicle worked as designed.
There was no problem with the landing gear, unlike the glide test four years ago when the left wheel never lowered and the Dream Chaser skidded off the runway. That mishap proved beneficial in retrospect.