Space Taxi Test Flight Next Summer
Next summer, a NASA backed project, the "Dream Chaser" will be making a high altitude test flight next summer. The announcement was made by NASA's Commercial Crew Program manager, Ed Mango at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The seven-seat space taxi resembles a miniature space shuttle and is a project of private firm, Sierra Nevada Corporation. Since the budget cuts, NASA has been partnering with private firms for project development.
Dream Chaser is just the first of four space taxis being planned. During the unmanned test flight, the carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo, owned by Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, will carry the vehicle into the skies.
The trial will likely take place either from Edwards Air Force Base in California's Mojave Desert or from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
If successful, the space taxi will be used to ferry astronauts and cargo to and from the US$100 Billion International Space Station before the end of 2016.
Space transportation has been limited since the retirement of NASA's space shuttles. In the meantime, Russia has been ferrying astronauts to and from the space station using their own space vehicles at a cost of US$50 Million per person.
The space agency is looking to turn over crew transportation services to commercial firms in the near future. They feel that they should expand their options outside of their reliance on Russia for travel needs.
Aside from Sierra Nevada Corp, Boeing Co and Blue Origin are partnering with NASA for other space vehicle projects. Blue Origin is a startup firm owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.