New autonomous NASA space shuttle lands successful test flight

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Prototype spacecraft Dream Chaser has successfully completed its first glide test flight nearly two years after securing a multi-billion dollar contract from Nasa.

The company is under contract from NASA to fly its Dream Chaser spaceplane to the International Space Station by 2020.

The Nov. 11, 2017, automated test went as planned, according to an SNC statement.

The free flight lasted 60 seconds, reaching a maximum speed of 330 miles per hour (531 kph) and touching down at the targeted spot on the runway at a speed of 191 miles per hour (307 kph).

Executives with Sierra Nevada Corporation said November 13 they believed the recent glide flight of a Dream Chaser test article was successful and they won't need to fly that vehicle again. The vehicle met expected models for a future return from the space station.

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Dream Chaser is a space apparatus which can be used many times.

The company is also developing a version of its shuttle that could carry as many as seven passengers to low Earth orbit. It flew the same final approach and landing profile it would were it returning from the ISS. "The testing will validate the aerodynamic properties, flight software and control system performance of the Dream Chaser".

The successful flight test was a relief for those at the company who have spent years working on the vehicle, including an October 2013 glide flight that both the company and NASA considered a success even though a landing gear problem caused it to skid off the runway after landing. Basically, Dream Chaser was attached to a pickup truck which would pull it around 60mph. Once up to speed, the spacecraft was released and its onboard systems slowed the vehicle to a stop. Like the Enterprise test flights, this one took place at Edwards Air Force Base, CA and Sirangelo expressed gratitude to NASA and the Air Force for their assistance. This was essentially a dry run for the glide test in order to gain data and calibrate instruments. Since then, Sierra Nevada has been modifying the Dream Chaser to just carry cargo.

This particular glide test was actually part of a space act agreement under NASA's Commercial Crew Program when SNC was competing with Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon to win a contract to send humans to the ISS. The Dream Chaser from Sierra Nevada offers more reliable landings than the other two now offer. Right now, two companies - SpaceX and Orbital ATK - hold contracts with NASA to periodically resupply the station through 2018. The latter two have been supplying the outpost since 2012 and 2014 respectively.