Tenacious D

Colorado-based space company Sierra Space showed off its Dream Chaser spaceplane, stacked on top of its cargo module, at NASA's Neil Armstrong Test Facility in Sandusky, Ohio, last week.

The design of the spacecraft, a private space plane that's set to visit the International Space Station for the first time later this year, is vaguely reminiscent of NASA's Space Shuttle, albeit with plenty of rounded edges and sleek, aerodynamic wings that look straight out of a "Star Wars" movie.

The vehicle, dubbed "Tenacity," stands 55 feet tall on top of its cargo module, and is meant to launch vertically on top of the United Launch Alliance's Vulcan Centaur rocket, which carried Astrobotic's perished lunar lander into orbit during its maiden voyage earlier this year.

Upon its return and blistering reentry through the Earth's atmosphere, the vehicle can glide through the air using its wings to safely return cargo — and eventually crew members — as an alternative to parachutes and ocean landings.

DUSTIN FRANZ/AFP via Getty Images

Spaceplane Gauntlet

If all goes according to plan, Tenacity will make its maiden voyage to the ISS without any crew on board as part of a demonstration mission in the first half of this year.

Before then, both it and its cargo module will be put through the wringer at the testing facility to ensure that the vehicles can survive the extreme environments of outer space.

"All the testing we've done over the last six years as well developmental testing, all the autonomy and aerodynamics — the remaining testing is the environmental testing of what the vehicle will see on the launch pad during the Vulcan ride up," Sierra Space CEO Tom Vice told reporters during the event last week, as quoted by Space.com.

"The testing is associated with replicating the environment of space, the vacuum of space; that's going to be done in the thermal vac chamber," he added.

NASA's commercial crew partnerships have already resulted in the successful deployment of SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft, which has completed seven operational crew missions to the space station to date. The company's Dragon spacecraft has also completed 29 uncrewed missions to the orbital lab.

In other words, Sierra Space has some steep competition when it comes to ferrying cargo and astronauts into the Earth's orbit.

More on Sierra Space: Dream Chaser Spaceplane Ready for NASA Tests

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