During a televised briefing on Thursday (January 14, 2016), NASA announced its new round of commercial contracts extending through 2024. The big news is the addition of Sierra Nevada Corporation’s robotic Dream Chaser mini-shuttle, which will become one of several cargo ships designed to carry science materials and supplies to and from the International Space Station. NASA expects to fly Dream Chaser as early as 2019. It’ll be the first winged vehicle to fly into orbit since NASA’s fleet of space shuttles were retired in 2011.
Sierra Nevada Corporation described Dream Chaser’s advantages, including:
… cargo module disposal, low-g, gentle runway landing return of cargo and sensitive science payloads with immediate access…
In addition to Sierra Nevada, SpaceX and Orbital ATK – which already launch resupply missions under earlier contracts – will also fly resupply missions to the station between 2019 and 2024.
The animated video below will give you some idea of Dream Chaser’s capabilities.
The upgrades in SpaceX’s robotic Dragon, along with the addition of the Dream Chaser, are expected to bring new capabilities to NASA’s orbital delivery system.
Today, Dragon capsules are designed to splash down in the ocean, and it can take days to get Earth-bound cargo in NASA’s hands.
But by 2019, shipments could be delivered from space to NASA in as little as three hours.
Bottom line: The winged space cargo ship Dream Chaser will join NASAs fleet of vehicles designed to go into low-Earth orbit and return, NASA said Thursday.