A Colorado-based commercial space company, Sierra Space, has revealed its first Dream Chaser spaceplane, called “Tenacity.” It will be used to ferry cargo to and from the International Space Station (ISS).
The spaceplane, technically called DC-100, is set to be shipped to NASA’s Neil A. Armstrong Test Facility in Ohio for environmental testing in the coming weeks.
In 2016, Sierra Space was awarded a NASA Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract. Under this contract, the Dream Chaser spaceplane fleet will provide a minimum of seven uncrewed cargo service missions to and from the International Space Station.
The Tenacity is the first Dream Chaser spacecraft expected to fly to the orbiting lab and could launch on a test flight to the ISS as early as April 2024.
Tenacity represents an uncrewed spiritual successor to the space shuttle. At 30 feet (9 meters) long, it’s roughly a quarter of the total length of the space shuttle orbiters. It has a pressurized volume of 33 cubic meters, which includes the spaceplane and the cargo module. This makes the spaceplane more sustainable and easier to maneuver, but it also assists with gentle 1.5g runway landings – ideal for fragile cargo.
In addition, its sustainable propulsion and oxidizer-fuel system should help mitigate the environmental cost of its operations as well.
Compatible with a wide variety of launch vehicles, Tenacity will be launched in a stowed configuration inside a 5m payload fairing. The spacecraft is covered with special silica-based tiles to safely withstand temperatures exceeding 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,650 degrees Celsius) during re-entry, all while being cool to the touch mere minutes after landing. This makes it significantly more flexible by reducing ascent loads on the vehicle and protecting the vehicle from debris.
What’s more, this innovative spaceplane can land at any compatible commercial runway worldwide, just like a narrow-body commercial airliner. According to the company, Dream Chaser’s autonomous flight system is designed for a minimum of 15 space missions.
The launch for this extraordinary journey is scheduled to occur from NASA‘s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Sierra Space’s launch provider, United Launch Alliance (ULA), will carry Dream Chaser into orbit on the second Vulcan Centaur rocket. Once in orbit, Dream Chaser will autonomously dock with the ISS, delivering essential supplies such as food, water, and scientific experiments.
“Today we have arrived at a profound milestone in both our company’s journey and our industry’s future – one that has been years in the making and is shaped by audacious dreaming and tenacious doing,” said Sierra Space CEO Tom Vice in a statement. “I am reminded of a comment made by Steve Jobs that every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. I think Dream Chaser is that product. This breakthrough shifts paradigms and redefines space travel. The Dream Chaser is not just a product; it’s a testament to the human spirit, determination, and the relentless pursuit of what lies beyond.”