A test version of a spacecraft resembling a mini space shuttle was carried aloft over the Mojave Desert by a helicopter Wednesday in a precursor to a free flight in which it will be released to autonomously land on a runway as it would in a return from orbit.
Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Chaser craft was lifted off the ground at 7:21 a.m., at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base, California, and was carried to the same altitude and flight conditions it will experience before release in a free flight.
A control team sent commands to the wingless vehicle and collected data before the helicopter brought it down at 9:02 a.m., the company said.
“Everything we have seen points to a successful test with useful data for the next round of testing,” director of flight operations Lee “Bru” Archambault said in a statement.
A second captive-carry test is scheduled this year and if it is successful, a free flight test will follow.
The Dream Chaser is being developed to carry cargo to and from the International Space Station without a crew aboard. The version flown Wednesday is for tests in the atmosphere. The version that will be launched into space is still in development.
With the addition of life-support equipment, a Dream Chaser could transport a crew of seven.
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