TPS Tiles Bonded to Dream Chaser® Spaceplane
June 24, 2020
Right now, when you look at the Dream Chaser, it’s a copper color. But, pretty soon, it’ll get the white and black color that’s most commonly seen in renderings.
The Thermal Protection System (TPS) tiles that cover the outside of Dream Chaser have arrived at our Louisville, Colorado production center and our engineers and technicians have started bonding them to the vehicle.
TPS tiles protect the vehicle from re-entry heat. Around 2,000 of these tiles will protect Dream Chaser from temperatures that could reach upwards of 3,000°F on entry, while keeping the vehicle itself at only 350°F. The white tiles reject more heat from the sun while on-orbit, which helps to keep the components within Dream Chaser cooler. In comparison, more than 24,000 tiles were used on NASA’s space shuttles orbiters. Dream Chaser is about 30 feet long, or about ¼ the total length of the space shuttles.
In order to keep the tiles on Dream Chaser, our engineers are using room temperature vulcanizing (RTV) silicone. RTV silicone is able to withstand high temperatures, making it perfect for bonding the tiles. Each tile is tested by using a mechanism that pulls on them, which ensures the bond is sufficient.
SNC engineers have been able to update our TPS tiles from what was used during NASA’s shuttle program with more innovation, better technology and utilizing lessons learned. We use more modern manufacturing techniques to increase strength and reduce cost. Another difference between the tiles is Dream Chaser tiles are about 10 inches by 10 inches, while those on the shuttle were six inches by six inches. Dream Chaser is also smaller in size, which also means less tiles to replace in general.
Dream Chaser tiles are stronger and lighter weight than those used during the shuttle program and meet all Micro-Meteroid Orbital Debris (MMOD) requirements to ensure safe entry, descent and runway landings for crewed or cargo missions.