SANDUSKY, Ohio — Ohio, home of the Wright brothers, is known as the “Birthplace of Aviation.” But the state also has some serious space flights, as we were reminded at an event Thursday (Feb. 1).
On that day, NASA and Colorado-based company Sierra Space gave reporters an up-close look Dream chasera private space plane that will fly its very first mission to the United States International Space Station (ISS) later this year.
The event took place at NASA Neil Armstrong Test Facility here in Sandusky. The robotic Dream Chaser and its cargo module – vehicles named ‘Tenacity’ and ‘Shooting Star’ respectively – were stacked vertically, as they will be during launch. The duo was 16.8 meters tall – about the length of a school bus!
Related: Dream Chaser is entering final testing ahead of its debut in space in 2024
“To turn bold dreams into bold action takes an enormous amount of tenacity, perseverance, confidence, determination and passion. And that’s why we name our products after these emotional characteristics that get you through the tough times,” former NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, who is now Sierra Space’s chief medical officer, said this during Thursday’s event.
“Building tenacity has been difficult,” he added. “There are a lot of things we discovered together that didn’t always work well the first time. And we learned a lot that Tenacity has helped us over the last six years, so there was no other name.”
Tenacity’s highly anticipated debut will carry cargo to the ISS for NASA. This unmanned demonstration mission will advance science in space and continue to fuel a rapidly growing economy in low Earth orbit.
But before the maiden voyage can begin, Tenacity and Shooting Star must complete a number of tests. That’s what’s happening here in Sandusky: the spacecraft are being put to the test at the NASA center’s Mechanical Vibration Facility. These tests expose the vehicles to the various harsh conditions they will experience during a mission, such as the shocks they will receive during the launch, which will take place atop a United Launch Alliance. Vulcan Centaur missile.
“All the testing we’ve done over the last six years, as well as development testing, all the autonomy and aerodynamics – the remaining testing is the environmental testing of what the vehicle will actually see on the launch pad during the Vulcan ride,” Sierra says. Space CEO Tom Vice said this on Thursday. “The testing involves replicating the environment of space, the vacuum of space; that’s going to happen in the thermal vacuum chamber.”
Sierra Space received a Commercial Resupply Services-2 (CRS2) perennial ccontract from NASA in 2016, to conduct at least six ISS cargo delivery missions. According to a recent release from NASAis part of an ongoing effort to increase the capabilities of commercial resupply in low Earth orbit.
NASA continues to work with U.S. private industry when it comes to transporting cargo and astronauts to the station. For example, in 2014 the agency signed commercial crew agreements with Boeing and SpaceX. Elon Musk’s company has already launched seven operational crewed missions to the ISS and is getting ready for number eight. (Boeing, on the other hand, plans to launch the first crewed test flight of its Starliner capsule this spring.)
The growing involvement of private players in supplying the ISS could provide a major boost to science returns in the future, NASA officials and research advocates say.
“They continue the lifeline for the zero-gram research that the ISS is doing now and that we hope to do for the future, and we’re talking about new materials,” Marshburn said.
“Many people don’t realize that the cytoskeletal structure of both human cells and bacteria actually changes when they are weightless and changes how they respond,” he added. “NASA has been able to develop new vaccines, crystal growth, all kinds of things you can do in weightlessness. I think we’re just on the first few steps into a whole new world of what we’ll ever be able to do. we begin to fly.”
While Shooting Star will stay true to its name and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere after its one mission is completed, Tenacity will land and be prepared for another launch. The space plane is indeed designed for that fly up to 15 missions.
Tenacity will carry more than 3,540 kg of cargo on its first flight, but can carry up to 5,215 kg on future missions. The spaceplane is designed to carry more than 3,500 pounds (1,590 kg) of cargo and test samples, while more than 8,700 pounds (3,950 kg) of waste can be disposed of in the cargo module upon return.
Related: Introducing ‘Tenacity’: the first Dream Chaser spaceplane gets a name
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The builders of Dream Chaser wanted to create something that was both highly reusable and highly reliable.
“If we are a company that wants to benefit life on Earth, we want to understand the impact on it,” Vice said. “And so we designed this vehicle to use even a very special fuel; it’s hydrogen peroxide and refined kerosene, so we don’t use any really hazardous materials. And so it’s very unique: we think the ability to run multiple times on one car vehicle to fly allows us to have a smaller footprint every time we fly.”
Tenacity and Shooting Star are currently scheduled to launch in the first half of this year, from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Station in Florida. Following launch, teams from Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser Mission Control Center in Louisville, Colorado, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston will work together to monitor the flight, fly the spacecraft and provide in-orbit demonstrations to help certify the system for future missions.
“The research being done on the Space Station is enormous, but broader than that, learning from this vast community increases our ability to travel to and from space and learn from it,” said Phil Dempsey, transportation integration manager for NASA’s International Space Station Program. , said during Thursday’s event.
“People are sitting at home, you ask them a question: why would I do that, why would our tax money go there? It is not so much about one individual reason, but about the knowledge we have as a sector and as humanity because of space travel. and the difficulty of space travel,” Dempsey said. “It adds to what we can do as a general group of people here on Earth if we want to do things beyond Earth, or improve the work on Earth or research that is making us good thing.”