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Trying to Make a Dream Come True

The story began on June 3, 1982, when a camera in an Australian P-3 patrol plane captured images of a Soviet ship recovering a space craft from the Indian Ocean.

It continued Wednesday, when Sierra Nevada Corp. honored the employees — many now retired — at NASA’s Langley Research Center who used those photos to carve a cherry wood model of the Soviet craft, a BOR-4, then used that model as the jumping-off point to the HL-20 (for horizontal lander) personnel space vehicle.

A proper ending, says Sierra Nevada chairman, Mark Sirangelo, would be for its version of the HL-20, the “Dream Chaser,” to ferry crews from Earth to the International Space Station and back.

On April 18, NASA awarded Sierra Nevada — a Louisville, Colo., firm — $80 million to continue work on the Dream Chaser after it was judged among four winners of the second round of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program.

“I had made a promise that if we ever got to the point where the program was beginning to go to the next level, that we would find a way to come back and thank all of those people who enabled this,” Sirangelo told [...]

SpaceX plans November test flight to space station

California-based rocket maker SpaceX said that it will make a test flight in late November to the International Space Station, now that NASA has retired its space shuttle program.

“SpaceX has been hard at work preparing for our next flight — a mission designed to demonstrate that a privately-developed space transportation system can deliver cargo to and from the International Space Station (ISS),” the company, also called Space Exploration Technologies, said in a statement.

The mission is the second to be carried out by SpaceX, one of a handful of firms competing to make a spaceship to replace the now-defunct US shuttle, which had been used to carry supplies and equipment to the orbiting outpost.

“NASA has given us a November 30, 2011 launch date, which should be followed nine days later by Dragon berthing at the ISS,” the company said.

It said the arrival of the vessel at the space station would herald “the beginning of a new era in space travel.”

“Together, government and the private sector can simultaneously increase the reliability, safety and frequency of space travel, while greatly reducing the costs,” SpaceX said.

The company won $75 million in new seed money earlier this year, [...]

HL-20 Model for Personnel Launch System Research: A Lifting-Body Concept

For the past several years, NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., has been studying an enhanced lifting body candidate for manned orbital missions. This concept, designated the HL-20, has been designed for low operations cost, improved flight safety and conventional runway landings.

With increasing national interest in obtaining routine access to space, a number of Earth-to-orbit transportation systems are being studied. One, referred to as a Personnel Launch System (PLS), could utilize the HL-20 and an expendable launch system to provide manned access complementing the Space Shuttle.

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The HL-20 experimental aircraft mock-up at North Carolina State University. Credit: NASA

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The HL-20 mockup, shown here in front of the Langley hangar. Langley developed the technology for a small space vehicle which one day may be used to transport up to 10 astronauts and small cargo to and from low-Earth orbit during missions lasting up to three days. Credit: NASA

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The interior of the HL-20 mockup. Credit: NASA

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Artist’s concept of an HL-20 at a space station. Credit: NASA

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Langley volunteers, wearing flight suits and helmets, were put through a series of tests with the [...]

SpaceX Launches Success with Falcon 9/Dragon Flight

Copyright NASA

SpaceX Corp. tested its Falcon 9 and a fully functioning Dragon capsule combination during a brief mission launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Dec. 8, 2010. The uncrewed capsule parachuted back to Earth about three hours after liftoff following maneuvers in orbit, a first for the privately owned company.

Flames erupted from the base of the Falcon 9 at 10:43 a.m. as it sat at Launch Complex-40. A few seconds later, the rocket and its Dragon capsule pushed above the surrounding lightning towers and headed into orbit.

The first stage separated on time and the second stage took over as planned. A camera on board the rocket showed the Dragon capsule separate from the second stage and trunk to orbit on its own.

After working through its maneuvers, the Dragon fired its braking rockets to begin re-entry. Like the Apollo spacecraft of the 1960s and 70s, the Dragon pierced Earth’s atmosphere protected by an ablative heat shield. Parachutes deployed and the spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.

“This has really been better than I expected,” said Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX. “It’s actually almost too good.”


Orbital Technologies and RSC Energia to Launch World’s First Commercial Space Station

Orbital Technologies and Rocket and Space Corporation Energia (RSC Energia) announced today their intentions to build, launch, and operate the world’s first Commercial Space Station (CSS). The station will be utilized by private citizens, professional crews as well as corporate researchers interested in conducting their scientific programs onboard the world’s first commercially available human spaceflight platform.

The CEO of Orbital Technologies, Sergey Kostenko said, “I am pleased to announce our intention to provide the global marketplace a commercially available orbital outpost. Once launched and operational, the CSS will provide a unique destination for commercial, state and private spaceflight exploration missions.” Mr. Kostenko continued, “The CSS will be a valuable addition to the global base of orbital assets. We look forward to working with corporate entities, state governments and private individuals from around the world.”

The CSS will be man-tended, with a crew capability of up to seven people. Space-certified elements, modules and technologies of the highest quality and reliability will be used in the construction of the station. The CSS will be serviced by the Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft, as well other transportation systems available in the global marketplace. Such arrangements are enabled through the station’s unified docking [...]