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sub-orbital space ship.
sub-orbital space ship.

SpaceDev, the company that designed and built the hybrid rocket engine for Scaled Composite's SpaceShipOne, announced that they've entered discussions with NASA to design a low-cost suborbital spaceship. The SpaceDev Dream Chaser would take off vertically, and carry up to three people to an altitude of 160 km (100 miles). If everything goes well, the spacecraft would be built by 2008, and would demonstrate a set of launch and flight technologies. Further versions of the spacecraft would eventually be able to go into orbit and transfer crew to and from the International Space Station.

SpaceDev has begun designing a reuseable, piloted, sub-orbital space ship that could be scaled up to safely and economically transport passengers to and from low Earth orbit, including the International Space Station. The name of the vehicle is the "SpaceDev Dream Chaser."

SpaceDev’s founding chairman and CEO, Jim Benson, recently signed a Space Act Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with NASA Ames Research Center director, Dr. Scott Hubbard. This non-binding MOU confirms the intention of the two parties to explore novel, hybrid propulsion based hypersonic test beds for routine human space access. The parties will explore collaborative partnerships to investigate the potential of using SpaceDev’s proven hybrid propulsion and other technologies, and a low cost, private space program development approach, to establish and design new piloted small launch vehicles and flight test platforms to enable near-term, low-cost routine space access for NASA and the United States. One possibility for collaboration is the SpaceDev Dream Chaser™ project, which is currently being discussed with NASA Ames.

Unlike the more complex SpaceShipOne, for which SpaceDev provides critical proprietary hybrid rocket motor propulsion technologies, the SpaceDev Dream Chaser™ would be crewed and take-off vertically, like most launch vehicles, and will glide back for a normal horizontal runway landing.

"This project is one small step for SpaceDev, but could evolve into one giant leap for affordable, commercial human space flight," said Jim Benson. "I have been waiting for almost fifty years for commercial space flight, and have concluded that SpaceDev, through our unbroken string of successful space technology developments, now has the technical capability and know-how, along with our partners, and when fully funded, to quickly develop a safe and affordable human space flight program, beginning with sub-orbital flights in the near future, and building up to reliable orbital public space transportation hopefully by the end of this decade."

"I am delighted that we will be working with SpaceDev to help meet the goals of The Vision for Space Exploration," said G. Scott Hubbard, director of NASA Ames Research Center, located in California’s Silicon Valley. "Near-term, low-cost, crewed and uncrewed routine space access is a key for realizing the nation’s Exploration Vision. I look forward to a long and fruitful partnership with SpaceDev to explore the technologies for a new class of exciting launch vehicles for future space exploration."

The sub-orbital SpaceDev Dream Chaser is derived from an existing X-Plane concept and will have an altitude goal of approximately 160 km (about 100 miles) and will be powered by a single, high performance hybrid rocket motor, under parallel development by SpaceDev for the SpaceDev StreakerÔ, a family of small, expendable launch vehicles, designed to affordably deliver small satellites to low Earth orbit. The SpaceDev Dream Chaser will use motor technology being developed for the SpaceDev StreakerÔ booster stage, the most powerful motor in the Streaker family. The SpaceDev Dream Chaser motor will produce approximately 100,000 pounds of thrust, about six times the thrust of the SpaceShipOne motor, but less than one-half the thrust of the 250,000 pounds of thrust produced by hybrid rocket motors developed several years ago by the American Rocket Company (AMROC).

SpaceDev’s non-explosive hybrid rocket motors use synthetic rubber as the fuel, and nitrous oxide for the oxidizer to make the rubber burn. Traditional rocket motors use two liquids, or a solid propellant that combines the fuel and oxidizer, but both types of rocket motors are explosive, and all solid motors produce copious quantities of toxic exhaust. SpaceDev’s hybrid rocket motors are non-toxic and do not detonate like solid or liquid rocket motors.

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