Dream Chaser mini-shuttle given 2016 launch date
The Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has set 1 November, 2016, for the debut flight of its space shuttle replacement. Known as the Dream Chaser, the winged vehicle will launch atop an Atlas V from Florida's Kennedy Space Centre. Though smaller than Nasa's famous orbiters, the Dream Chaser has still been designed to carry up to seven astronauts into low-Earth orbit.
The maiden voyage, however, will be an unmanned, autonomous flight. The re-usable "lifting body" will spend about a day in orbit before returning to a landing strip on the US West Coast. If all goes well, SNC hopes to mount its first manned mission in 2017.
And, ultimately, the Dream Chaser will land back at Kennedy on the same runway as used by the shuttles, and be serviced in Kennedy's processing facilities.
The date for the demonstration flight was announced in a joint media conference that included representatives from SNC, the US space agency (Nasa), and United Launch Alliance (ULA), which operates the Atlas rocket.
The 9m-long Dream Chaser is one of the three commercial human transportation systems currently being developed with the financial and technical support of Nasa.
The other two are more traditional capsule designs known as CST-100 and Dragon, from the Boeing and SpaceX companies respectively.
Sierra Nevada Corporation