Sierra Space Corporation announced on November 2, 2023, that the company had completed the construction of its first operational Dream Chaser spaceplane, named Tenacity. The new cargo vehicle for the ISS is now ready for environmental testing at the NASA Armstrong Test facility in Ohio.
“We have arrived at a profound milestone in both our company’s journey and our industry’s future,” said CEO Tom Vice.— Sierra Space (@SierraSpaceCo) November 2, 2023
Tenacity, the first vehicle in the Dream Chaser fleet is complete, and will ship to NASA’s Neil Armstrong Test Facility in coming weeks.https://t.co/IcBcb9nNCf pic.twitter.com/tO0YH0df1y
The spaceplane that has been chasing dreams for many years
The Dream Chaser is a spaceplane whose design is derived from a Russian prototype called BOR-4 of the early 1980s. Using the photos of the BOR-4, NASA researchers reverse-engineered several models, creating a concept known as HL-20.
After years of ups and downs, in 2006, NASA signed an agreement with the private company SpaceDev to develop a commercial space vehicle based on the HL-20. The vehicle was called Dream Chaser. Sierra Nevada Corporation (now Sierra Space) bought SpaceDev and the Dream Chaser project in 2008.
After some years of development as a crewed spacecraft, Dream Chaser was turned into a cargo vehicle (named DC-100) in 2014 and selected by NASA in 2016 for at least six resupply missions to the ISS under the Commercial Resupply Services program.
Finally, on November 11, 2017, the first flying prototype of the Dream Chaser was dropped at an altitude of 3700 meters, landing successfully at Edwards Air Force Base.
The development of the spaceplane continued, and in 2019, Sierra Nevada Corporation announced that the first Dream Chaser mission to the ISS was planned for 2021. However, the launch was subsequently shifted to 2022, then to 2023, and ultimately to April 2024.
The time has come: Tenacity is almost ready for the maiden flight
With the completion of Tenacity, the first planned mission to the ISS in April 2024 is no longer a dream but a reality. The environmental testing at NASA’s Armstrong Test Facility should last until the end of 2023, paving the way for its first launch on top of a ULA Vulcan rocket in 2024.
The launcher itself could bring some more uncertainty to the flight date. If the Vulcan maiden flight in December 2023 goes as expected and Blue Origin delivers the needed BE-4 engines to ULA on time, Sierra Space will be able to proceed with the first mission to the ISS as planned.