The Dream Chaser Spaceship Promises ‘Orbital Reef’ Tourism for Mere Mortals

The Dream Chaser Spaceship Promises ‘Orbital Reef’ Tourism for Mere Mortals
The Dream Chaser. Image: Sierra Space/Blue Origin

Nevada-based space company Sierra Space (the space-focused subsidiary of defence contractor Sierra Nevada Corp) has announced a new spaceship known as the Dream Chaser space plane.

The Dream Chaser space plane is a small-scale reusable spacecraft, about the size of a jet. It’s a very futuristic-looking ship, invoking an aesthetic from movies like Interstellar or The Martian. It follows a legacy of space shuttles, despite being notably smaller than the space planes before it.

The ship is designed to enter space by being attached to a rocket and land like a plane on a runway when it returns to Earth, without the need for a pilot to launch. It’s intended for cargo hauling between rockets and space stations, however Sierra has much more ambitious things in mind for the Dream Chaser than to be used as a simple cargo ship.

dream chaser space plane
The Dream Chaser. Image: Sierra Space

As reported by Reuters, the ship, unveiled at CES 2022, has already been commissioned for seven NASA cargo missions to the International Space Station, although the ship is being redesigned to carry humans. Why would you want to carry a lot of humans? Well…

In collaboration with Blue Origin, the space company owned by Jeff Bezos, the Dream Chaser space plane will transport civilian astronauts to the planned Orbital Reef space station.

“In addition to the cargo vehicle, we’re currently developing a crew version of the vehicle that will be able to carry six astronauts to and from low Earth orbit to work both on the international space station but also for a commercial destination that we are developing in conjunction with Blue Origin,” says John Roth, the vice president of business development at Sierra Space.

“Our space station is called Orbital Reef and it’s going to be a totally commercial space station that we own and operate and work with commercial businesses for realising their commercial businesses in space.”

dream chaser space plane
Concept art of Orbital Reef. Image: Blue Origin

We’ve known about Orbital Reef for a while – a space station described by Blue Origin as a “mixed-use business park”, Orbital Reef is set to be a tourism location for space-fairing civilians and businesses.

The hope is that it’ll be a hub for business like manufacturing, sports and gaming, but right now it’s a bit… Space-age. And expensive, considering it’s developed with the assistance of a $US130 million ($181 million) grant from NASA. It’s also set to be a home for crews of astronauts and cargo.

The Sierra Space Dream Chaser is expected to conduct its first space mission at the end of 2022, while Orbital Reef is expected to be operational this decade. The “Tenacity” space plane will be the first ship in the Dream Chaser fleet.