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What is the plan for a thermal protection system on the Dream Chaser and what advantages will it have over the Space Shuttle TPS?

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  • $\begingroup$ Great question! I suspect this is classified information though. Just, as a side note, as far as I know, SNC did not get the crewed NASA contract, so they are working on a fully automated vehicle which is uncrewed. I'm stating this in relation to the tag used. $\endgroup$ – ChrisR Jan 16 '17 at 6:06
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    $\begingroup$ Chris, thanks for the comment. I am aware of this cargo version btw! And the crewed version may still be seen as apparently ESA was interested. $\endgroup$ – John Costello Jan 16 '17 at 6:11
  • $\begingroup$ Oh that's pretty cool! I did not know that! Do you know whether that is in relation to the XIV vehicle they tested two years ago (I forget the exact date)? $\endgroup$ – ChrisR Jan 16 '17 at 6:13
  • $\begingroup$ No ,unfortunately. $\endgroup$ – John Costello Jan 16 '17 at 6:16
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According to a June 2015 SNC press release, the TPS will consist of (at least in part) "a high-temperature material called TUFROC. TUFROC will be used on the high-temperature nose and wing leading edges of the Dream Chaser spacecraft." According to this page TUFROC stands for "Toughened Uni-Piece Fibrous Reinforced Oxidation-Resistant Composite". TUFROC has been proven in flight by its use on the X-37B. This would seem to be used in place of the reinforced carbon-carbon used in similar high-temperature areas on the Shuttle.

The press release mentions "a new silica tile coating" implying that other parts of the TPS will consist of tiles. "SNC’s assessments show that these new coatings offer the same thermal protection as previously flown tile coatings, but at a greatly reduced cost." I would interpret this to mean that the tiles will be similar to Shuttle tiles, but with a different coating.

Bottom line, it appears that the TPS will be similar to that of Shuttle but with certain improvements/cost saving measures.

The press release is here.

Note: the Wikipedia article on Dream Chaser refers to "an ablative tile created by NASA's Ames Research Center." However, the linked reference for this statement - a video of a press conference from 2011 - contains only a brief mention of "a latest generation tile with an ablative on top" (about 40 minutes into the video). This ablative may be the coating referred to in the press release, or the design may have changed in the 4 years between the video and the press release.

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