Dream Chaser® Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

About the Dream Chaser Spacecraft  |  Uses & Benefits  |  Other


Image titleAbout the Dream Chaser Spacecraft

Q: What is the Dream Chaser® spacecraft?

A: SNC's reusable Dream Chaser spacecraft is a multi-mission, commercial, lifting-body vehicle capable of transportation services to low-Earth orbit (LEO) destinations, including the International Space Station (ISS). SNC has developed one common Dream Chaser spacecraft airframe, which we call a Space Utility Vehicle (SUV) due to its mission flexibility. However, there are currently two Dream Chaser variants optimized specifically for either uncrewed or crewed missions, known as the Dream Chaser Cargo System and Dream Chaser Space System, respectively. Additional variants may be developed for future mission needs.

Q: Are there two different types of Dream Chaser spacecraft and/or systems?

A: There is one basic Dream Chaser spacecraft airframe, but there are two system variants optimized specifically for either uncrewed or crewed missions. Further variants may be developed for future mission needs.

The two Dream Chaser system variants are the Dream Chaser Cargo System (uncrewed spacecraft) and the Dream Chaser Space System (crewed spacecraft).

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Q: What is the difference between the Dream Chaser Cargo System and the Dream Chaser Space System?

A: The Dream Chaser Cargo System is designed to deliver up to 5,500 kg of pressurized and unpressurized cargo to the ISS with the ability to conduct orbital disposal services and return pressurized cargo to a gentle runway landing. This solution exceeds NASA’s current cargo transportation requirements. SNC has created an animated critical cargo mission overview video that demonstrates this capability viewable on our YouTube channel.

The Dream Chaser Space System is designed to transport up to seven crew members and cargo to LEO destinations with a gentle return to a runway landing. SNC has created an animated crew mission overview video that demonstrates this capability viewable on our YouTube channel.

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Q: What are the similarities and differences between the uncrewed and crewed Dream Chaser systems?

A: The similarities of the two spacecraft variants are:

  • Lifting-body spacecraft with the same outer mold line (shape)

  • Capable of autonomous launch, flight and landing (does not require a pilot)

  • High reusability (minimum 15x with 90% component reusability)

  • Low 1.5 g atmospheric entry throughout the entire flight profile

  • Gentle runway landing on any compatible commercial runway, both in the United States and internationally

  • Immediate access to crew or cargo upon landing

  • All non-toxic consumables, including propellants - a historic first!

  • Ability to perform an ISS propulsive reboost when docked (lifts ISS to a higher orbital altitude)

The differences include:

  • Dream Chaser Cargo System (uncrewed spacecraft):

    • Addition of a disposable cargo module that attaches to the Dream Chaser vehicle greatly increases the amount of upmass pressurized and unpressurized cargo that can be carried

    • Ability to do both orbital disposal and pressurized cargo return on every mission

    • Innovative folding-wing design allows the uncrewed Dream Chaser spacecraft to fit inside existing standard launch vehicle fairings, making it compatible with a suite of current and future launch vehicles. Post-mission, the folding wings also facilitate simple and affordable transportation back to the launch site from a variety of locations since the spacecraft is easily transportable via a multitude of platforms and carriers (ground, sea and air)

    • Addition of solar arrays on the cargo module increase flight time in space

    • Capable of docking or berthing to the ISS

  • Dream Chaser Space System (crewed spacecraft):

    • Addition of an environmental control, life support system and seating capable of transporting a crew of seven and critical cargo to LEO

    • Addition of windows for crew visibility

    • Launches without a fairing, on top of a human-rated United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with the ability to safely abort to a runway in the event of an emergency

    • Integral main propulsion system for abort capability and major orbital maneuvers

Q: Who manufactures the Dream Chaser spacecraft and where is it built?

A: The Dream Chaser spacecraft is designed, manufactured, owned and operated by SNC's Space Systems division based in Louisville, CO. However, SNC has assembled a world-class Dream Team of aerospace companies, NASA centers, universities and international partners collaborating to ensure the Dream Chaser is the safest, most reliable spacecraft in the world. You can learn more about SNC’s Dream Team by visiting the link below.

The initial design and assembly of the vehicle are performed at SNC’s Space Systems facility in Louisville, Colorado. For NASA missions, vehicle refurbishment between flights will be performed at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

» The Dream Chaser "Dream Team"

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Q: What does it mean to say Dream Chaser is a “lifting-body” spacecraft and how is that advantageous?

A: A typical airplane has large wings that provide the lift to keep the vehicle in the air. The Dream Chaser spacecraft does have small winglets, or fins, to provide directional stability in flight, but the lift is created by the body of the vehicle (the underside) which is wide and flat. The Dream Chaser spacecraft third-generation design builds upon four decades of NASA development (i.e., HL-20, and lifting-body space shuttle legacy) and SNC’s expertise as a prime developer and integrator of complex systems and space hardware. SNC’s Dream Chaser spacecraft can be reused 15 or more times, which is more than any other current space vehicle, making the Dream Chaser affordable and responsive. Our gentle low-g reentry allows us to build TPS and an overall vehicle that is fully reusable with pin-point landing capability enabled by the lifting body characteristics. The lifting-body design gives Dream Chaser a higher lift-to-drag ratio and allows for greater cross-range landing capability, meaning the landing zone (or places where it can land) is greatly increased. This ratio is much greater compared to capsules.

Q: What are the dimensions of the Dream Chaser spacecraft and how does that compare with the Space Shuttle?

A: Dream Chaser is 30 feet, or 9 meters, long which is roughly ¼ the total length of the Space Shuttle orbiters. The Space Shuttle was designed with a spacious cargo bay to allow it to carry large structures to space such as components for the ISS and the Hubble Space Telescope. In 2011, construction of the ISS was completed. Therefore, NASA no longer needs such a large cargo vehicle to transport hardware or cargo to and from LEO. Instead, NASA now needs smaller, more efficient transportation systems to transport cargo and crew to and from the ISS.

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Q: Will Dream Chaser be capable of going farther than low-Earth orbit?

A: The Dream Chaser spacecraft is designed as a space utility vehicle for LEO. The spacecraft is capable of docking or berthing to the ISS and can perform a variety of other missions in LEO including: remote sensing, satellite servicing; free-flying, self-contained science or manufacturing; serving as an exploration testbed, or performing active debris removal (cleaning up space trash).

Q: How many G’s will Dream Chaser encounter upon atmospheric return?

A: The Dream Chaser spacecraft will experience atmospheric reentry with a maximum of only 1.5 g’s throughout the flight profile, which is considerably less than existing capsule-based orbital return systems, or even most roller coasters! This attribute makes the Dream Chaser vehicle ideal for sensitive payloads and deconditioned or injured crew members returning from space.

Q: What tests has Dream Chaser undergone in its quest for space?

A: There have been dozens of tests on all major subsystems performed to date which include: extensive thermal heat-shield testing, wind tunnel tests, environmental impact tests, system-level tests, flight software analysis, reaction control systems tests and many, many more.

A full scale, autonomous atmospheric free-flight test was conducted at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center/Edwards Air Force Base, California in late 2013. With this historic test flight, SNC was able to test, and verify, the full aerodynamic and ground performance of the vehicle. This was the first test conducted on a lifting-body spacecraft in over 40 years. In early October 2015, SNC announced the launch of the second phase of flight testing as well as its progress towards building the first orbital vehicle.

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Uses & Benefits

Q: What are the benefits of landing the Dream Chaser spacecraft on suitable runways?

A: The unique runway landing capability of the Dream Chaser spacecraft is focused primarily on responsive access, safety and near-immediate accessibility. Since Dream Chaser uses all non-toxic consumables, including propellants, there are no environmental or safety hazards that require unique ground support infrastructure. As a result, it has the potential to land anywhere that has a suitable 10,000 ft runway capable of handling a typical large passenger airplane (like a Boeing 737 or Airbus 320). Almost immediately after landing, the Dream Chaser spacecraft offers access to cargo and crew.

Another benefit is that there are no unique navigational aids or special handling systems required for the Dream Chaser spacecraft, which significantly reduces costs and logistics demands compared to any other system in the world. 

Additionally, a runway landing substantially increases safety and reduces risk because runways are developed, maintained and operated to strict domestic and international standards. With other spacecraft, such as capsules, a distant splash down into an ocean or remote landing crew and cargo retrieval is more labor intensive, takes longer to complete, requires more support infrastructure and introduces risk - including those related to injured crew or sensitive cargo. For scientists, researchers, and medical personnel, the benefits of the near-immediate accessibility afforded by runway landings are unmatched.


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Q: Is SNC hiring for the Dream Chaser program, and if so, what types of positions?

A: SNC is always looking for the best and brightest talent who want to join our team! These exciting missions will challenge the very best minds and hands in the world. If you are exceptional and driven to succeed, we’d like to talk with you! SNC is a family-oriented place where the finest people can do the best work that will positively change history – everyone is passionately committed to these ideals and the quality of life is unsurpassed. Please visit the Careers section of our website to peruse current opportunities.

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Q: How can I find out more about Dream Chaser developments news and events?

A: Visit for the latest Dream Chaser information.

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