In a new render of DC200, the Crew version of Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser Vehicle appears without any external windows. While the lack of external windows isn’t significant for the vehicle while in space, it is particularly notable due to the vehicle’s runway-based landing. Astronauts returning to Earth won’t have any direct view of the runway they are landing on.
Dream Chaser is Sierra Space’s reusable spaceplane. The plane will have many versions, starting with the cargo DC100 and beyond.
By avoiding the use of windows, Sierra Space could carry over much more of its design from the Cargo variant, the DC100, to the Crewed version. Rather than using a direct view of the runway, astronauts can land like they dock in space, using an array of sensors and cameras.
The second render, in addition to not showing windows, shows what appear to be three large screens, entirely blocking the forward view from the spaceplane.
Technology like this isn’t exactly new either. The X-59 supersonic aircraft is set to use a 4k screen in place of a normal central window. These instrument-guided landings are also rather common, and even standard pilots often rely on instruments to aid their landings.
Without windows, the tile headshield can cover and protect much more of the vehicle, preventing a point of failure that could come from the switch of materials.
I asked Ken Shields, who was giving the presentation that included this render about it, and he certainly seemed to be in favor of windows, “as big, and as many as safely possible,” though he also noted that some are considering screens, as a “virtual way of moving through space.” But he said there’s “nothing like a window.” Perhaps there is still some internal debate in the company whether windows should be prioritized. As he noted, safety is always the top priority.
When we last talked with him, he seemed quite in favor of tourist EVAs, and Shields certainly seems to be in favor of creating the best passenger/tourist experience possible, so it is understandable for windows to be one of his priorities. It would be quite disappointing to be totally unable to see the outside as you launch and fly to space.
These new renders were shown during an IEEE Webinar with Sierra Space’s Director of Commercial Market Development, Ken Shields.
During this call, a few other tidbits of information were shared, including the “January or February 2023” launch date for the first Cargo Dream Chaser. This was previously just “January,” as noted during our interview with Shields at CES. He noted on this call that this was a NASA mission, so NASA has control over the timeline of this mission to the International Space Station
We also got some more timeline information for Dream Chaser. It is expected, in a rush and with another rocket lined up, that a Dream Chaser could refly in “three to four months,” though he noted the importance that everything go smoothly and there be no anomalies in the first mission. These Dream Chasers are expected by models to last about 15 flights, though once the space planes actually begin flying more information could be gathered to further inform this number.