Sierra Nevada's Space Plane, Dream Chaser, Poised for Flight Test (Video)

First Posted: Jan 31, 2013 10:11 AM EST

Flying into space is becoming privatized, and NASA has everything to do with it. A private space plane is slated to fly on its own for the first time in the next six to eight weeks. This is a key milestone in the vehicle's quest to fly astronauts on round trip space missions.

The spacecraft, the Dream Chaser, was built by aerospace firm Sierra Nevada Corp. Its owners plan to release the craft from a carrier helicopter 12,000 feet in the air. It will then fly back by itself and land on a runway at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in California.

The flight will be unmanned, and the drop test will only take about 30 seconds, according to Fox News. However, Sierra Nevada Corp. hopes that this test will help spark a series of trials that will culminate in trips to low-Earth orbit and back. It could potentially open the way for contracted, crew-carrying flights to the International Space Station for NASA.

The ship itself holds seven passengers and stretches about 29.5 feet long. It has a wingspan of 22.9 feet, and will eventually launch vertically on an Atlas V rocket to reach space. It also has the capability to land on a runway, unlike some of its competitors which are designed to parachute down or make ocean splashdowns.

And there are indeed competitors. This company isn't the only one that's getting into the spaceship-building business. Several other companies have received funding from NASA's commercial crew program, which is encouraging private companies to fill the gap left by the retirement of the shuttle fleet in 2011. In other words, NASA is helping privatize the industry.

If everything goes according to plan, Sierra Nevada will conduct more extensive flight trials with another Dream Chaser vehicle. It could be a huge step in a direction for creating spacecraft for ferrying astronauts back and forth between Earth and the International Space Station.

Want to see how the craft works? Check out the video below.

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