Contracted Soviet-derived spaceplane Dream Chaser makes successful glide test

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It's an important milestone in the Dream Chaser's development, as Sierra Nevada readies the plane for spaceflight.

If NASA agrees, the very next flight of the Dream Chaser might be a return from orbit two or three years from now at the end of a mission taking cargo to and from the space station. Boeing, Orbital ATK, and SpaceX have also designed or flown spacecraft, but Sierra Nevada's spaceplane stands out in obvious contrast to the other companies' capsule designs.

Dream Chaser is a space apparatus which can be used many times. The craft was tested using a free-flight method, meaning it was brought up and then released to glide down and land unmanned on a runway, which it did according to plan.

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Prototype spacecraft Dream Chaser has successfully completed its first glide test flight nearly two years after securing a multi-billion dollar contract from Nasa. Sierra Nevada filed a protest, but the government's General Accounting Office upheld the decision.

The company is planning both a manned version for astronauts and an unmanned version for cargo, both of which would be launched atop an expendable rocket.

SNC's lifting-body spacecraft has been in development for more than a decade and is created to deliver up to 5,500kg of pressurised and unpressurised cargo to the space station. The vehicle flew a similar glide flight in October 2013, which the company and NASA considered successful despite a landing gear failure that caused the vehicle to skid off the runway after landing. It will lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 booster from Cape Canaveral, and will touch down on the runway at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The plan is for the Dream Chaser to fly a minimum of six missions to the ISS by 2024, says NASA. Sierra Nevada plans to give more details on the test during a press conference this afternoon.