The new privately built space shuttle Dream Chaser will perform its maiden orbital flight in November 2016, Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has announced.
SNS’s corporate vice president Mark N Sirangelo introduced the plan during a high-profile media event at Nasa’s John F Kennedy Space Centre.
With this announcement, SNC has become the first of the private US space transportation capability developers to confirm a launch date for a human crew return vehicle. Nasa has lost the ability to fly astronauts with the 2011 retirement of the Space Shuttle and has had to rely on Russian services since.
“SNC is thrilled to be the first company to confirm a launch date for our country’s return to orbital human spaceflight and the restart of human spaceflight operations from Florida’s Space Coast,” Sirangelo said. “We could not have done this without the spirit and engagement from our national and state governments, the best aerospace companies in the industry, and several major universities, which all hail from over 30 states. Together these passionate people will return our astronauts to space on American spacecraft and rockets launched from America’s space coast right here in Florida.”
The space-shuttle-like space plane Dream Chaser will be carried to orbit by a United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V rocket. SNC has already made arrangements with the company to secure the launch.
"Today's announcement is the latest major milestone in the transformation of the Kennedy Space Centre into a 21st century launch complex, serving both private sector and government users," said Nasa administrator Charles Bolden.
SNC also said it wants to use Nasa’s historic Operations and Checkout facility, used to assemble Gemini and Apollo spacecraft in the 1960s and 1970s. The facility, upgraded since its Apollo times, is currently being used by Lockheed Martin Space System to assemble, develop and test the Orion space capsule.
SNC plans to use the facility for pre-flight preparation and post-flight testing. The company said it will also take advantage of the Space-Shuttle-era landing facility on Merritt Island in Brevard County, which is a part of KSC and was used by Nasa's Space Shuttle for landing until the programme's end in 2011.