Space entrepreneur Jim Benson, head of Benson Space Company of Poway, Calif., is set to announce a fresh approach in the design of his firm's "Dream Chaser" space tourism vehicle.
The firm's new suborbital design will be based on a melding of the NASA and Air Force X-2, X-15, and T-38 vehicles — rather than using an earlier design — the orbital NASA HL-20 lifting body craft. The new NASA/Air Force-derived design is "safer and better," Benson said.
A five month-long study by SpaceDev and Benson Space Company has determined that this new design will provide "the first, safest and best astronaut-making spaceflights for the emerging space tourism market." The announcement is slated to occur during the National Space Society's International Space Development Conference that gets under way here this week.
This new design is deemed safer and more aerodynamic, Benson said. It will also allow Benson Space Company to remain on schedule to make its initial commercial spaceflights in 2009.
Large windows, good view
The new Dream Chaser spaceship design is lighter and sleeker, Benson is reporting, resulting in less drag and requiring less propulsion than the earlier HL-20 design.
The vehicle is to be powered by safe hybrid rocket motors, will launch vertically, followed by glide to a landing at the launch site.
A safer "carefree re-entry" — after achieving an altitude of at least 65 miles — Benson reports, will subject passengers to minimal G-forces, compared to other designs. It will also have many large, well-placed windows for ideal passenger views of Earth and space during the suborbital trek.
Benson said the new design is easier and faster to construct than the previous Dream Chaser concept, allowing his company to stick to the schedule for starting commercial service in 2009.
Better ride, more spectacular views
"During the past two months a small, highly experienced team has taken a fresh look and concluded that we can do better," Benson noted in a press statement.
"To that end, the new spaceship will incorporate the best elements selected from other successful vehicles. This will result in a spaceship that provides a better ride and even more spectacular views, and at this early stage we will lose little time in bringing it to the commercial market," Benson explained.
Benson branched out from SpaceDev, the company he founded in 1997, and established Benson Space Company in September 2006 to serve the emerging personal spaceflight market.