Spacecraft builder Sierra Nevada Corporation completed a critical flight test of its Dream Chaser orbital vehicle on Saturday, moving a step closer to supplying the International Space Station.
Launched unpowered from a Chinook helicopter above the California desert, Dream Chaser flew autonomously on a planned path before landing at Edwards Air Force Base.
Dream Chaser proved "its atmospheric flight performance along with its return and landing capability," Mark Sirangelo, a vice president at SNC, said in a statement. "The Dream Chaser flight test demonstrated excellent performance of the spacecraft's aerodynamic design and the data shows that we are firmly on the path for safe, reliable orbital flight."
Sirangelo told reporters on a conference call that the free flight test version of the aircraft "is a full-scale version of what we will fly to orbit." When asked about plans for the manned variant of the craft, Sirangelo said the current cargo program's testing "makes those other options more viable."
Former NASA astronaut and SNC senior director Steve Lindsey said on the call that the test included not only orbital vehicle designs and processes, but also specific orbital vehicle equipment.