23 October 2019 News

Landing site sought for UN's Dream Chaser mission

A rendering of SNC's Dream Chaser spacecraft.
A rendering of SNC's Dream Chaser spacecraft.

A new joint announcement by the United Nations and Sierra Nevada Corp. on Tuesday notched the UN's first space mission just a little closer.

Together the organisations are issuing a call for interest asking UN member states to pitch locations to bring SNC's Dream Chaser orbital spacecraft back to Earth. They delivered the news during the International Astronautical Congress taking place in Washington, DC.

A US company, SNC won a contract with NASA to build two Dream Chasers - the first that will ever to go to space - and to make six uncrewed cargo missions to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) from 2021 to 2024. According to NASA's Cargo Resupply Services contracts, SNC will retain ownership of its Dream Chasers and provide the missions as a service.

That service will look a lot different from today's missions to resupply the ISS, all performed using capsules that either burn up in the atmosphere on the return flight while also disposing of ISS rubbish; or undergo steep descents that can reach 6 to 8 G's to return science cargo to Earth.

Dream Chasers, on the other hand, will glide home like NASA's Space Shuttles did - at up to 1.5 G's, much like a normal aircraft landing and desirable to gently and quickly get science experiments back into the hands of their investigators.

NASA wants SNC to have a second spacecraft available for redundancy. The two vehicles are expected to be reusable up to 15 times each, and that's where the UN's Office of Outer Space Affairs comes in.

Expected to launch around 2024, the UN's ‘Access to Space 4 All’ initiative will give an estimated 10 to 15 UN member states the chance to send experiments to space - some for the very first time, "to ensure that the benefits of space, in particular for sustainable development, are truly accessible to all." The project supports the UN's six sustainable development goals of ending poverty and hunger; and promoting health, education, gender equality and women's empowerment, and water and sanitation.

In a press conference at SNC's exhibit booth at IAC, UNOOSA's Simonetta Di Pippo said the experiments will be from a mix of nations both with and without a history of in-space research. She said that so far, her office has received about 75 responses to its initial announcement of opportunity, and that more queries keep coming in.

SNC co-owner and CEO Fatih Ozmen said the company's goal is to redefine "how humanity reaches, explores and utilises space" and that space is "a way to bring the world and its cultures together”.

In the US, SNC plans to land Dream Chasers at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Florida where the Space Shuttles landed, but SNC has long said Dream Chasers will be able to land anywhere in the world that a Boeing 737 can.

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