KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – Commercial space company Sierra Nevada Corp. revealed a test version of the cargo module of its spaceplane Tuesday at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
The company has dubbed the cargo module on the spaceplane “Shooting Star.”The Shooting Star cargo module be attached to the 15-foot Dream Chaser spacecraft, which resembles a mini space shuttle, for at least six resupply missions to the International Space Station.
Sierra Nevada Corp. was selected by NASA under the second round of commercial resupply services contracts, known as CRS-2, to carry supplies to and from the space station.
Sierra Nevada said the cargo system could hold six tons of supplies and, like the Space Shuttle, Dream Chaser can also land on the old Shuttle runway at Kennedy Space Center, now called the Launch and Landing Facility.
However, any unwanted materials or trash won’t touch down on the runway with the Dream Chaser.
Sierra Nevada officials said that the cargo module is designed to dispose of anything else not wanted to be brought back to Earth by burning it up in the atmosphere, like what real shooting stars do.
"Being disposable is really important because it helps us get rid of payloads and stuff like that that we're done using," former NASA astronaut Steve Lindsey said.
Lindsey is now Sierra Nevada's senior vice president of space exploration.
Lindsey said Dream Chaser could one day also fly astronauts, deploy satellites and send supplies to NASA’s lunar space station, the Gateway.
“It’s a pretty versatile system and the more we work on it, the more we realized there are multiple applications for it,” he said.
Dream Chaser and Shooting Star’s first flight is expected in 2021. The spacecraft will launch on a United Launch Alliance rocket from Cape Canaveral.
NASA plans to return humans to the moon by 2024 with the help of commercial partners. Click through the graphic below to learn about the rockets and spaceships fueling a new era in space exploration.