The first Dream Chaser space plane has been given wings and christened with a name.
Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser is the first of its kind -- the only non-capsule private orbital plane in the world. It will start its missions being carried by a rocket, but it can perfectly land on a runway once it returns to Earth, similar to the old space shuttle orbiters.
The company recently unboxed the wings of the first operational Dream Chaser space vehicle along with the announcement of its official name: Tenacity.
Kimberly Schwandt, Sierra Nevada's communications director, happily announced: "It's an SUV for space - a Space Utility Vehicle."
Tenacity will make its first trip aboard a United Launch Vulcan Centaur rocket in late 2021. It will use NASA's Kennedy Space Center The space plane will then perform its task of carrying cargo to and from the ISS for NASA. Its runway landings are designed as so in order to ensure that the scientific gear it carries are safe and remain intact. According to company reps, the spacecraft will have a smooth ride down to the ground.
Sierra Nevada received funding from NASA's Commercial Crew Program to develop a spacecraft that could carry people. However, it lost out to SpaceX and Boeing in 2014 when the space agency gave both companies contracts to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS.
2016 came, and Dream Chaser was given a chance to redeem Sierra Nevada, with NASA choosing them for its Commercial Resupply Services 2 contract. Now, Tenacity will be able to fly cargo missions to the space lab.
Only 20% of Dream Chaser's module was modified, so the passenger vehicle would be converted into a cargo plane, said Anna Hare, a company communications representative for Sierra Nevada. However, the company hasn't lost all hope to carry people to the ISS in the future.
After loading the cargo onto the ISS, astronauts can fill the Shooting Star with their trash. Once Tenacity passes through the atmosphere of our planet, the Shooting Star will detach and disintegrate.
Tenacity doesn't require a human pilot to fly as it is fully automated. Sierra Nevada plans on developing the space plane more so it could support travel to and from space. The company also wants more Dream Chasers in the future.
"Our dream is to have a whole fleet of space planes," Schwandt said. For now, though, they are relying on Tenacity to usher in their success in space cargo ferry.