Updated after test completion.
Sierra Nevada Corp. conducted a captive carry test flight of the Dream Chaser spaceplane Wednesday at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research in California.
About one-quarter the length of a space shuttle orbiter, the Dream Chaser is being developed to ferry cargo to and from the International Space Station. After blasting off on time of an Atlas 5 rocket, the ship will return to land on a runway.
The automated spacecraft was lifted airborne Wednesday by a dual-rotor Boeing Vertol 234 helicopter operated by Columbia Helicopters. The “captive carry” test flight was expected to be used to test out telemetry and control systems before a planned drop test later this year to demonstrate Dream Chaser’s ability to make an autopilot approach and landing to a runway.
The captive carry test comes after a series of tow tests at NASA’s Armstrong facility, co-located at Edwards Air Force Base in California’s Mojave Desert.
Sierra Nevada plans the first orbital flight of Dream Chaser to the space station in 2020.
Suspended under a 200-foot lift line, the 30-foot-long (9-meter) test craft flew around the dry lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base, making several high-speed and high-altitude passes to test out the ship’s aerodynamics and simulate the conditions needed during the approach and landing demonstration later this year.
“On-board the vehicle, we have all the orbital vehicle avionics,” said Steve Lindsey, senior director and co-program manager for Sierra Nevada’s space exploration systems division. “The avionics on-board are identical to what we will have on the orbital vehicle, as well as the flight software for the orbital vehicle.
“That’s why (this test) is so critical to us,” said Lindsey, a former space shuttle commander. “It will test that. It will also test the aerodynamics of the vehicle. We flew it once before and know kind of how it flies, but we’re going to test that again and…