Sierra Nevada Corporation Matures Dream Chaser Thermal Protection System

An artistic rendering of SNC's Dream Chaser in Orbit. Image Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

An artistic rendering of SNC’s Dream Chaser in Orbit. Image Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

June 26, 2015 – Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has successfully completed several significant Thermal Protection System (TPS) material development tests for its Dream Chaser spacecraft. The TPS is responsible for protecting crew members and cargo from the high temperatures the spacecraft will experience during re-entry.

The TPS tests were completed at NASA’s Ames Research Center and Johnson Space Center under reimbursable Space Act Agreements (SAA). The tests provided critical data needed to support the upcoming TPS subsystem Critical Design Review (CDR) and to validate Dream Chaser TPS manufacturing readiness. Additional TPS certification testing is also planned at the centers beginning in the fall of 2015.

“Safety of crew and cargo is most important to our team as we continue to mature the spacecraft design,” said Mark N. Sirangelo, corporate vice president, SNC’s Space Systems. “For several years, we have worked collaboratively with Johnson and Ames, leveraging their existing infrastructure, materials and expertise to mature and customize the TPS for our unique spacecraft. Our TPS is lighter, stronger and more efficient than previous generations. We have met or exceeded all mission requirements. We are now prepared to enter the Critical Design Review phase for this system.”

Over 100 arc jet cycles and radiant heat tests were completed at Johnson’s Radiant Heat Test Facility (RHTF) and Ames’ Aerodynamic Heating Facility (AHF). RHTF provided results supporting thermal characterization of the developmental TPS materials. The test data were then used for thermal modeling, analysis and TPS sizing. The Ames AHF arc jet tests were performed as a second phase in the development testing to gauge the material performance in environments simulating Dream Chaser flight conditions.

Valuable arc jet test results support SNC’s certification of the manufacturing capability of a high-temperature material called TUFROC. TUFROC will be used on the high-temperature nose and wing leading edges of the Dream Chaser spacecraft. The TUFROC test articles were manufactured in Kennedy’s historic Thermal Protection System Facility to SNC’s specifications as part of the TUFROC technology transfer from Ames to SNC.

In addition to the TUFROC testing, arc jet cycles and radiant heat tests in high-heating, simulated re-entry environments were conducted to measure the thermal performance of new silica tile coating developed by NASA and SNC. SNC’s assessments show that these new coatings offer the same thermal protection as previously flown tile coatings, but at a greatly reduced cost.

The Dream Chaser spacecraft is the only reusable, lifting-body, low-g, and horizontal runway-landing spacecraft in the world capable of crewed and uncrewed transportation. The crewed variant has been under development in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program since 2010. SNC’s Dream Chaser is a reliable, cost-effective solution for transportation of crew and cargo to low-Earth orbit.