Transportation

Listen Up, Space Shuttle Lovers — NASA's Dream Chaser Space Plane Is Here

When you think about astronauts blasting off into space, images of the Space Shuttle are likely what flash across your mind. The black-nosed, white, airplane-esque launch vehicle is the iconic image of NASA spaceflight. Or rather, was. No need to feel nostalgic, shuttle lovers. Say hello to the Dream Chaser. *Insert something about "dreams coming true" here.*

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Dream Chaser flight vehicle is prepared for 60 mile per hour tow tests on taxi and runways at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Back And Better Than Ever

"Fans disconsolate after the retirement of NASA's shuttle fleet can take heart: The next generation in reusable space vehicles is set to debut," NASA said in an announcement. This next-generation space place was designed and built by the privately owned company Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), one of three companies awarded contracts with NASA to ship cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) between 2019 and 2024. Dream Chaser will be NASA's first reusable launch vehicle since the world said goodbye to the partially reusable, fully beloved Space Shuttles in 2011. On August 23, 2017, NASA unveiled a photo of Dream Chaser on the NASA Armstrong Research Center runway. Spoiler alert: It looks totally baller.

Artist's conception of the Dream Chaser Cargo System Docked to ISS.

Dream On

Dream Chaser visually recalls the Space Shuttles of yesteryear, but with some necessary tweaks and updates. Decades of NASA work done at Langley Research Center went into the design, most notable of which is the horizontal-landing, or HL, lifting bodies. As NASA describes, "Sporting a design reminiscent of the upward-flexing pectoral fins on breaching manta rays, HL vehicles feature rudimentary wings."

Another big difference between Dream Chase and the Space Shuttles is the size: the new-school launch vehicle is only about a quarter of the size of the Space Shuttle: 30 feet (9 meters) from nose to tail. There are two versions of the Dream Chaser: one for ferrying nothin' but cargo, and one capable of manned missions. The manned version can carry up to seven crewmembers, and the cargo version can haul up to 12,120 pounds (5,500 kg) of stuff up to the ISS, which goes beyond NASA's current requirements.

According to SNC, the Dream Chaser can be reused 15 times with 90 percent component reusability. And if we've learned anything from SpaceX's reusable Falcon rockets, reusability is the name of the game to slash costs. Says NASA, "Fly frequently, travel safely, land on (most) runways, and operate economically: such are the guiding principles for 21st century space planes, cargo-carrying aerospace workhorses routinely launching to low-Earth orbit for space station resupply and crew transfers."

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