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Demonstrator masters flight sequences for reusable rocket stages

Demonstrator masters flight sequences for reusable rocket stages
The demonstrator technology vehicle (DTV) is a 60 kg platform with landing legs. It has been developed by INCAS, Romania’s National Institute for Aerospace Research in Bucharest. DTV’s turbo jet 0.9 kN-class engine provides the power to carry payloads totalling 20 kg. Tests at INCAS in July 2020 lasted ten seconds to a couple of minutes to demonstrate vertical takeoff, short hovering and landing manoeuvres – the technology building blocks for the recovery of a rocket stage. This project was carried out with the support of ESA’s Future Launchers Preparatory Programme. Credit: ESA

A crucial part of rocket reusability is a smooth return and landing. ESA has helped Romania’s National Institute for Aerospace Research, INCAS, to demonstrate vertical takeoff, short hovering and landing maneuvers using a small-scale flight demonstrator.


This 60 kg platform has landing legs and is powered by a turbo jet 0.9 kN-class engine. It is capable of carrying payloads totalling 5 kg.

The demonstrator technology vehicle (DTV) was tested this summer at INCAS in Bucharest. Tethers were used as a safety measure and to protect it from damage in case of an equipment failure during flight. Maneuvers lasted ten seconds to a couple of minutes.

“The major challenges are the design and test of the guidance, navigation and control techniques. They should allow robust and autonomous control of the platform during the three flight sequences: takeoff, hovering and landing,” explained Stephane Dussy, ESA’s Demonstrator lead project engineer.

This project has been carried out within ESA’s Future Launchers Preparatory Programme (FLPP). FLPP hones technologies for future space transportation solutions with the objective to improve the mid- to long-term competitiveness of European launch services.

The DTV is a fast track and low-cost entry step into some of the important fields being investigated and is providing precious technical results. Once qualified, it will be used as a platform for in-flight demonstrations, in particular for launcher reusability and planetary space transportation.

ESA has helped Romania’s National Institute for Aerospace Research, INCAS, to perform vertical takeoff, short hovering and landing manoeuvres using a small-scale flight demonstrator. This 60 kg platform with landing legs is called the demonstrator technology vehicle (DTV). Its turbo jet 0.9 kN-class engine provides the power to carry payloads totalling 20 kg. INCAS carried out the tests in Bucharest in July 2020. Manoeuvres lasted ten seconds to a couple of minutes to prove several technology building blocks for the recovery of a rocket stage for the purpose of reusability. Credit: Romania’s National Institute for AerospaceResearch, INCAS

“These tests represent a major milestone, proving several technology building blocks for the recovery of a large scale in-flight demonstration rocket booster for the purpose of reusability,” added Mr. Dussy.

ESA gave support on the vehicle design and guidance, navigation and control (GNC) and made recommendations to ensure safe testing.

Subsequent outdoor DTV flights will achieve varying heights and duration, untethered.

A more powerful DTV weighing 130 kg with three engines is also being considered and would be capable of supporting larger payloads.

Inside Sierra Nevada Corp’s space plans, from the reusable ‘Dream Chaser’ to inflatable habitats

  • Private contractor Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) invested heavily in its space systems division, especially as it sees NASA and other companies building infrastructure in orbit.
  • The crown jewel of SNC’s space portfolio is Dream Chaser: A reusable spacecraft that is built to launch atop a traditional rocket and land on a runway like an airplane.
  • “We view the Dream Chaser as something that eventually in low Earth orbit will be providing transportation, logistics and crew for everybody,” Steve Lindsey, SNC’s senior vice president of strategy space systems, told CNBC.



a satellite in space: An animation shows Dream Chaser and its Shooting Star cargo module in orbit around the Earth.


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An animation shows Dream Chaser and its Shooting Star cargo module in orbit around the Earth.

Sierra Nevada Corporation is best known as a private aerospace and national security contractor – but the company is investing heavily in its space systems division, especially as it sees NASA and other companies building infrastructure in orbit.

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“Our view of the future is a vibrant, commercial low Earth orbit economy,” Steve Lindsey, SNC’s senior vice president of strategy space systems, told CNBC. “We want to be the logistics and crew providers in that future, so we’re really playing the long game.”

While SNC to date has been involved in hundreds of exploration missions and more, the crown jewel of its space portfolio is Dream Chaser: A reusable spacecraft that, in appearance resembling a miniaturized NASA Space Shuttle, is built to launch atop a traditional rocket and land on a runway like an airplane.

“We view the Dream Chaser as something that eventually in low Earth orbit will be providing transportation, logistics and crew for everybody,” Lindsey said.

Dream Chaser gets ready to launch



a fighter jet sitting on top of a runway: Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser.


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Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser.

In the coming year or so ahead, SNC is focused on Dream Chaser’s first launch. The vehicle SNC is building now is optimized to carry cargo, rather than crew, and is under contract to fly supplies and research to the International Space Station for NASA.

Lindsey has been working on SNC’s Dream Chaser program for nearly a decade. While SNC had won more than $360 million in development contracts from NASA under the competitive Commercial Crew program, the agency in 2014 ended up going with SpaceX and Boeing for further contract awards. Despite the setback in developing a Dream Chaser as a crew vehicle, SNC pivoted to focus the spacecraft on winning contracts under NASA’s second generation of Commercial Resupply Services program.

But SNC is building Dream Chaser to go far beyond the upcoming cargo missions.

“We see it as the future vehicle that will be flying for the next 30, 40 or more years,” Lindsey said.



Installing Dream Chaser's aeroshell in August 2020.


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Installing Dream Chaser’s aeroshell in August 2020.

The company earlier this year announced the first Dream Chaser is named “Tenacity,” which Lindsey said feels fitting amidst the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“2020 has been somewhat difficult year for all of us, but we’re working through the challenges … and coming up with