I have to admit that at first, some time ago, when Sierra Nevada’s plans were first in the news I was really not impressed. I thought they had just copied the space shuttle which while I admit was totally cool, was nothing new. But then I delved more into the design.
Let’s start with the obvious. The size. The shuttle when compared to the Dream Chaser is an SUV compared to a family car. While one can load up the SUV to carry all sorts of things, the Dream Chaser carries the astronauts and some cargo, just enough.
AND with that come some amazing advantages!
LANDING: The Dream Chaser can land anywhere a Boeing 747 can. Kennedy, Edwards, and White Sands were the only places the shuttle could land. Think about it, the Dream Chaser besides traveling up to the ISS can theoretically go anywhere in orbit.
TAKING OFF: As pictured above, the shuttle was strapped to the side of the rockets whereas also pictured is the elegant design of the Dream Chaser atop an Atlas V.
PROPULSION SYSTEMS: Dream Chaser uses Space Systems which have Spacecraft Propulsion systems such as transfer stages and ‘responsive’ propulsion solutions that eliminate the use of toxic propellants. Dream Chaser Uses Safe, Non-Toxic, Storable, & Human Flight Tested Propellant
SAFETY: This covers a lot of ground.
First there is the G’s experienced. For the shuttle, that number was significantly higher, 6 G’s, of course Apollo won the all-time record with 11 G’s, but the Dream Chaser comes in much lower at less than 1.5 G’s. For an astronaut, that’s a day at the park.
Based on the NASA project – the HL-20 Personnel Launch System, the Dream Chaser has many of the same augmentations such as the external tank and the escape hatch with even more updates for safety. (After the 1987 Challenger tragedy there were many lessons learned and features that were added to the shuttles this was carried forward to the HL-20 and now to the Dream Chaser. Few if any of these changes would have made a difference for the Crew of the Challenger.)
It has a low impact, horizontal landing
Includes a Launch escape system that is moves the crew & main body of the vehicle away from the malfunctioning boosters (for during a launch). In the case of a needed abort during the ascent phase, an abort to an ocean landing is possible.
So to recap, it’s not a just space-taxi for the ISS, nor an just an orbital out-for-a-Sunday-drive vehicle (or you can say a space lab), it can be a space-tourist vehicle and it can handle satellite repairs or perhaps removing large bits of space debris to prevent accidents. The sky is the limit-the orbital skies.