NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center welcomes Sierra Nevada Corp.'s… (Tom Tschida / NASA )
A white-and-black space plane, very much resembling the now-retired space shuttle, was trucked to a NASA flight center in the Mojave Desert to begin a round of testing to see if it has the right stuff to carry astronauts one day.
Tucked under a white tarp, the space plane called Dream Chaser arrived Wednesday at Dryden Flight Research Center inside Edwards Air Force Base.
Tests at Dryden will include tow, captive-carry and free-flight of the Dream Chaser.
The tests come as part of a contract with NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which is aimed at helping private companies develop spacecraft and rockets capable of launching astronauts from American soil, now that the space shuttle fleet is retired.
NASA wants to turn the job of carrying cargo and crews to the International Space Station over to private industry. Meanwhile, the agency will focus on deep-space missions to land astronauts on asteroids and Mars.
The Dream Chaser, built in Louisville, Colo., by Sierra Nevada Corp., has won more than $300 million in seed money from the space agency.
The flight tests will determine the glide and landing characteristics of the Dream Chaser -- a similar regimen was completed at Edwards on the space shuttle in 1977.
“NASA Dryden has always played a vital role in the testing of American flight vehicles,” Mark Sirangelo, head of the company’s space systems division, said in a statement. “As the Dream Chaser program takes flight, this unique opportunity to conduct our tests at the same location as the space shuttle began its flight brings great pride to our team.”
NASA is partnered with Sierra Nevada, Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, and Boeing Co. to meet milestones to one day carry astronaut crews. Currently, the United States government has no way for its astronauts to reach space other than doling out $63 million for a seat on a Russian Soyuz rocket.
SpaceX has already begun running cargo missions to the space station. The missions are seen as the precursor to privately run manned missions.