This is the weekend of the International Space Development Conference in Dallas. At this meeting I've met everyone from Dr. Aldrin to Dr. Hale of Hale-Bopp. Jim Benson founded two Space companies and developed the engine technology of Spaceship One. His Benson Space Company is developing the DreamChaser Spacecraft for suborbital flight and beyond. Benson's advisor and chief pilot is Robert "Hoot" Gibson, veteran of 5 shuttle flights.
In 1983 a P-3 aircraft photographed this mysterious spacecraft being recovered by Russians from the Indian Ocean. The BOR-4 experimental lifting body had just returned from an orbital test. Americans liked the design so much that they developed it into the HL-20 rescue vehicle for ISS. In the end the Russian scientists were forced by their leaders to copy the American Space Shuttle as Buran. HL-20 was cancelled and ISS is limited to 3-person crews using Soyuz as an escape pod. Benson Aerospace had been developing this shape for DreamChaser.
The Space Shuttle's delta wings are not necessary. When shuttle was expected to replace every US launch vehicle, the Air Force insisted upon delta wings for cross-range capability. USAF wanted shuttles landing at remote airbases, a capability that was never used. The big wings add weight, drag, and a big target for foam strikes.
This weekend Benson will unveil a new design based upon the X-2, X-15 and other successful straight-wing aircraft. This design promises less drag, a smoother ride, and a better view. The many portholes are reminiscent of Spaceship One. Benson aeropace is on schedule to begin suborbital passenger flights in 2009, possibly ahead of Virgin Galactic.