In what can be termed as an ironic twist of history, US-based Sierra Nevada Corporation’s NASA-contracted Dream Chaser cargo spacecraft has a design rooted in the Soviet Union’s space “shuttle” of nearly 50 years back.
Dream Chaser, being developed for delivering cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), is a winged spacecraft that resembles a mini space shuttle and traces its heritage to the Soviet BOR series, arstechnica.com reported.
The concept for BOR series was derived from a 1965 space plane concept, the Soviet MiG-105.
“The BOR-1 was first tested in 1969, launching to an altitude of 100 km as the Soviets sought to study various heat shields for a winged vehicle,” the report added.
The Soviets continued a series of test flights leading up to the BOR-4 vehicle and it began flying in 1980. In June 1982, a test flight of the BOR-4 vehicle captured the attention of the US.
Launched from the Kapustin Yar missile test range in Astrakhan Oblast of Russia, the BOR-4 splashed down in the Indian Ocean and was recovered by the Soviets.
Even after the Soviet Union shelved the BOR-4, the US showed interest in it and revamped it. BOR-4 vehicle was known as the HL-20.
About a decade ago, a space company SpaceDev announced to resurrect the HL-20 for sending crew to the international orbiting laboratory.
After Sierra Nevada Corporation acquired SpaceDev, the company joined the commercial crew bidding competition and won $20 million in 2010 to continue development of HL-20, now rechristened as Dream Chaser.
In the latest NASA announcement, the Sierra Nevada Corporation will share the $14 billion in commercial resupply contracts with two other private US-based space firms – SpaceX and Orbital ATK.
Both SpaceX and Orbital ATK use cargo craft that are launched aboard rockets and return to the Earth.
In comparison, Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser launches aboard rockets but glides back to the Earth and lands on a runway like the former NASA space shuttle.
The contracts guarantee a minimum of six cargo resupply missions from each provider.
The contracts also include funding ISS integration, flight support equipment, special tasks and studies, and NASA requirement changes.
“By engaging American companies for cargo transportation, we can focus our attention on using this one-of-a-kind laboratory in the sky to continue advancing scientific knowledge for the benefit of all humanity,” said Kirk Shireman, ISS programme manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, in the statement.
“These resupply flights will be conducted in parallel with our Commercial Crew Programme providers’ flights that enable addition of a seventh astronaut to the International Space Station. This will double the amount of crew time to conduct research," added Julie Robinson, chief scientist for the ISS programme.
These missions will be vital for delivering the experiments and investigations that will enable NASA and our partners to continue this important research, the US space agency said.