By THE BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN
Kern County is no stranger to spaceships and rocket scientists.
From Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier in 1947 to the first manned private spaceflight by SpaceShipOne in 2004, eastern Kern has established a solid reputation as the Kitty Hawk of aerospace.
Kern County... it's time to meet Dream Chaser.
Developed by Sierra Nevada Corp. of Louisville, Colo. -- in partnership with NASA -- the Dream Chaser is a vertical-takeoff, horizontal-landing spaceplane that is expected to provide NASA with a safe, commercially-operated transportation service to the International Space Station and back again.
The seven-passenger spacecraft is still in its early testing stages, and on Thursday, a test version of the craft successfully completed a captive-carry test at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in eastern Kern County, according to twin news releases from NASA and Sierra Nevada Corp.
During the two-hour test, an Erickson Air-Crane helicopter picked up a test version of the Dream Chaser flight vehicle and flew it a distance of three miles over a dry lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base at a maximum altitude of about 12,400 feet.
The spacecraft followed the projected path it will fly during future approach and landing tests at Dryden, the releases said.
The spaceplane's flight computer, along with its guidance, navigation and control systems were tested, NASA said in its release. The landing gear and nose skid also were deployed during flight.
"Today is the first time we have flown a fully functional Dream Chaser flight vehicle, and we are very pleased with the results," said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president and head of Sierra Nevada's Space Systems.
This was the second captive-carry test of the Dream Chaser flight vehicle and its first at Dryden. Data obtained from the test will provide valuable information about the vehicle's hardware and ground operations. The test paves the way for upcoming free-flight tests at Dryden this fall as part of the company's agreements with NASA.
According to the release, Dream Chaser will ultimately launch atop an Atlas V rocket. Commercial human flight capability has been projected to begin as early as 2016.