Aerospace Sciences

Dream Chaser completes a captive carry


The Atmospheric Flight Mechanics Technical Committee addresses the aerodynamic performance, trajectories and attitude dynamics of aircraft, spacecraft, boosters and entry vehicles.

Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser was lifted off a ramp at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center by a Chinook helicopter for a captive carry flight. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

The year saw many advancements in the area of autonomy in aeronautics, including development of space vehicles and unmanned aerial systems. Many flight tests were conducted around the world to advance these technologies.

Sierra Nevada Corp. completed a captive carry test of its Dream Chaser spacecraft Aug. 30 at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California. A Chinook helicopter carried the Dream Chaser to the same altitude and flight conditions at which it was expected to free fly later in 2017.

The Dream Chaser is meant to carry cargo to and from the International Space Station. NASA says it will fly at least six resupply missions to and from the space station beginning in 2019.

The captive carry test was an important milestone in the vehicle’s development. A second captive carry test was planned for later in 2017. After the test, the vehicle was to undergo free-flight testing via helicopter drops to test its final approach and landing sequence. The Dream Chaser also completed a series of ground tests in 2017.

Pilots began flying a flight simulator for the X-57 Maxwell aircraft, which was revealed at AIAA’s 2016 Aviation Forum and Exposition. The X-57 is a modified Tecnam P2006T aircraft intended to reduce fuel consumption, emissions and noise through an array of 14 propellers driven by electric motors. The simulator is meant to familiarize pilots with the all-electric vehicle. Mod II of the X-57 is under construction at Armstrong and will begin flight testing next year.

A team of academic and industry researchers with NASA’s Performance Adaptive Aeroelastic Wing project flight-tested three controllers for active flutter suppression on their flying-wing research drone. All operated as designed, and two flew above the flutter speed. The University of Minnesota leads the team, which is also comprised of Virginia Tech, Systems Technology Inc., D.K. Schmidt and Associates, CMSoft Inc. and Aurora Flight Sciences.

Working under the sponsorship of the Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems — a National Science Foundation Industry-University Cooperative Research Center — researchers with Brigham Young University and Virginia Tech established the Small Aircraft Flight Encounters Database to share data collected to support see-and-avoid algorithm development.
Initial data sets containing visual and radar imagery, position and attitude histories, and more from NASA, the National Research Council and a BYU/Virginia Tech flight campaign are available. The team is also welcoming additional data contributions.

In July, the German Aerospace Center’s SAGITTA drone completed its first flight test. The experimental vehicle has a lightweight all-composite airframe and is designed as a testbed for autonomous vehicle systems. The drone thus far has made significant advancements in ultra-light structures, electro-mechanical actuators and landing gear systems.

Dream Chaser completes a captive carry