Did you know the United States copied a Russian space plane called the BOR-4 and adapted it in the 1990’s to a manned orbital space plane called the HL 20? On Tuesday, November 8th, I went to the Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) plant in Livingston, Colorado, accompanied by Carl Ehrlich, the manager of the Rockwell study team who worked on the HL 20 program in the 1990’s. We were guests of Mark Sirangelo, Vice President of SNC Space Systems. He spoke at the International Symposium on Personal and Commercial Spaceflight here in October.
While at SNC we toured the plant, viewed the test hardware for the Dream Chaser and flew the Dream Chaser simulator. The HL 20 design has its origins in the BOR-4 Russian space plane. The BOR-4 was reverse engineered by NASA/Langley in the 1980’s and named the HL 20. The HL 20 is now being adapted by SNC into the Dream Chaser using the original Rockwell structural design concept. The Dream Chaser is a manned orbital space plane and one of two efforts by private industry to launch cargo and crew to the Space Station under NASA’s Commercial Crew Development program (CCDev) program. You can read about Sierra Nevada Corporation’s progress on the Dream Chaser at http://www.spacedev.com/space_exploration.php
The Russian space plane called the BOR-4 was designed because the Russians feared the U.S. intended to use the Shuttle for military purposes including delivery of nuclear weapons. As a response to this threat, the Russians began work on a program to possibly intercept the Shuttle. Note that the BOR-4 should not be confused with the perhaps better known Buran, a near copy of the US Space Shuttle orbiter. The Buran flew only once and it remained the only full sized space shuttle to ever perform an unmanned flight in fully automatic mode. You can watch a video of a Russian flight test of the BOR-4 at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HdlaBLomTZ4 The BOR-4 flew 4 times, twice in the Indian Ocean where it was filmed in this video. Decide for yourself where this footage came from.
I was in Colorado for the first technical meeting of the FAA Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation. You may remember, New Mexico State University won the national competition for this Center in August of 2010. As the Administrative Lead, I have the privilege of knowing many of the brilliant designers of space systems, but also have the opportunity to send NMSU students to learn about these companies and present at meeting such as this.
After I visited the Sierra Nevada plant, and met with one of my students who now works at SNC, I went to the University of Colorado Bioastronautics Laboratory in Boulder. The university has a model of the HL 20 built by students from North Carolina State University. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReniUfN9GFY.
A cooperative agreement between NASA, North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T University led to the construction of a full-scale model of the HL-20 PLS for further human factors research, following Rockwell’s original structural design. Students at the universities, with requirements furnished by NASA Langley Research Center’s, and with guidance from university instructors, designed the research model during their spring 1990 semester with construction following during the summer. The research model was eventually moved to UC Boulder where students continue to work on this project in collaboration with SNC.
The role of students in the space program is a long one. As we build our education programs in the aerospace engineering programs at universities in New Mexico, we will have companies looking to the research capabilities in our universities. Sierra Nevada is using UC Boulder students and faculty to help them gain a competitive advantage. Through my NASA work with the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium, I will soon be entering into a Space Act Agreement with NASA’s Flight Opportunities Office. This agreement will enable us to partner with NASA on research flights from Spaceport America. We have a partner in this Student Launch Program. This is another first for New Mexico. We have a lot to be grateful for as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday.
Colorado has just announced they will be building a spaceport. They like New Mexico, realize there is a great deal of opportunity emerging from test and development programs as we evolve the next generation of space transportation vehicles. Colorado has the second largest space economy in the nation. They are now positioning themselves to surpass Florida as they evolve vehicle testing with the Dream Chaser program.
I can only hope New Mexico continues to take advantage of the asset we have in Spaceport America. Efforts to involve students and research universities in the space industry have benefits to local economies that can only be known if we talk about them.