Sierra Nevada Corp. Completes Critical Wind Tunnel Tests

NASA technician Ricky Hall prepares a scale model of Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser spacecraft for tests inside the Unitary Plan wind tunnel at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Image Source: NASA/David C. Bowman

NASA technician Ricky Hall prepares a scale model of Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser spacecraft for tests inside the Unitary Plan wind tunnel at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Image Source: NASA/David C. Bowman

Sparks, Nevada. May 19, 2014 – Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) announces the successful completion of the latest milestone in its NASA Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement. The completion of this milestone significantly advances the path to orbital flight of the Dream Chaser spacecraft and the Dream Chaser Atlas V integrated launch system.

For this milestone, SNC put several scale models of its Dream Chaser spacecraft through rigorous wind tunnel testing to observe how turbulent flow affects the spaceship at different angles and positions. The models were subjected to wind tunnel tests in various configurations, including the integrated launch stack of Dream Chaser on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

“The aerodynamic data collected during these tests has further proven and validated Dream Chaser’s integrated spacecraft and launch vehicle system design. It also has shown that Dream Chaser expected performance is greater than initially predicted,” said Mark N. Sirangelo, corporate vice president and head of SNC’s Space Systems, based in Louisville, Colorado.

NASA awarded SNC full value of $20 million for the passage of CCiCap Milestone 8, Wind Tunnel Testing. SNC has now received over 80 percent of the total award value under the CCiCap agreement and is on track to complete the program later this year.

“Our program continues to fully complete each of our CCiCap agreement milestones assisted through our strong collaboration efforts with our integrated ‘Dream Team’ of industry, university and government strategic partners. We are on schedule to launch our first orbital flight in November of 2016, which will mark the beginning of the restoration of U.S. crew capability to low-Earth orbit,” said Sirangelo.

SNC fully self-funded an additional wind tunnel test that will accelerate the Dream Chaser development schedule and path to completion of the Critical Design Review.

The use of facilities at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia has been integral to SNC’s progress with the Dream Chaser. SNC has a long-standing relationship with Langley dating to 2004, the beginning of its development of the Dream Chaser. In addition to wind tunnel facilities, Langley also houses a full motion-based flight simulator that operates using Dream Chaser flight software. The simulator is used to train future Dream Chaser pilots and NASA astronauts.

“The NASA-SNC effort makes for a solid, complementary relationship,” said Andrew Roberts, SNC aerodynamics test lead. “It is a natural fit. NASA facilities and the extensive work they’ve done with the Dream Chaser predecessor, HL-20, combined with SNC’s engineering, is synergistic and provides great results.”

In addition to Langley, wind tunnel tests for this milestone were completed at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California and CALSPAN Transonic Wind Tunnel in New York. Previous wind tunnel testing also occurred at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama and at Texas A&M University.

SNC is working with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to develop a safe, reliable, and reusable spacecraft that can ferry crew and critical cargo to and from low-Earth orbit. The Dream Chaser is based on Langley’s HL-20 lifting-body design and combines years of NASA analysis and wind tunnel research with SNC engineering.