Dream Chaser space plane slated to make for orbit by 2016

Last we heard of Sierra Nevada Corporation's (SNC) Dream Chaser, the chubby little space plane had taken a bit of a spill during its last test flight. What could have been a disaster for the program, however, turned out to be one of those landings you walk away from with your head (and the all-important flight data) held high. Having actually garnered all the information they needed from their imperfect test flight, SNC is back in the saddle and aiming for a 2016 launch that will take the Dream Chaser into orbit.

The launch will take place at Cape Canaveral on November 1, 2014, weather permitting, with the Dream Chaser sitting atop an Atlas V rocket. Originally supposed to ferry crew and cargo to and from the International Space Station, the Dream Chaser will be doing neither on its first visit to orbit. The flight will be autonomous, taking the little shuttle-like space plane into orbit for about a day before returning to Earth somewhere on the west coast of the U.S. If all goes well, the Dream Chaser could begin flying manned missions as early as 2017.

What with the new Dream Chasers not being outfitted with the grandfathered landing gear that caused last year's poor landing, there's no reason to doubt that the space plane won't perform admirably. Nonetheless, SNC wants to complete one more unmanned flight in Earth's atmosphere before beginning manned flight trials. Once a pilot or two have had a go, it'll be time to turn our eyes skyward and watch once more as something looking very much like NASA's retired space shuttles takes to the stars.

Sierra Nevada Corp., via Space.com

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