Check out this sweet goodness! That is the Dream Chaser spacecraft developed by the Sierra Nevada Cooporation. You probably haven't heard much about SNC and it's Dream Chaser mainly because their CEO isn't a douche-bag lunatic. But do you have to be a media whore to develop a successful spaceship? Hell no!
Like SpaceX, SNC is one of the "private" companies that are developing "commercial" launching services. SpaceX and SNC, among others, have received over 100 million dollars to develop their spacecraft. But you may ask "Wait, isn't that how spacecraft was developed before...hardware built by private companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and ATK but paid for by NASA?" Yes you are correct. In addition, I'm sure that the the same heavy mission assurance requirements are going to be imposed on these designs before NASA lets their astronauts fly in them anyway. So same NASA, different guise.
Before I started on that tangential rant I was discussing the Dream Chaser. The SNC Dream Chaser is not necessarily an original design, it was conceptually design by NASA and some educational partners back in the day, the 90's, called the HL-20. HL meaning "horizontal landing." SpaceDev, later acquired by SNC, built upon that design to enter their design into the COTS program in 2004. They were not awarded any money then but later in 2010 as part of the CCDev program they were selected as one of the companies to receive some NASA fundage. Now as they further their development of the Dream Chaser, NASA has extended more awards to hopefully get this sweetness in the air.
The Dream Chaser can carry up to seven people and less people with cargo into orbit. It is designed to fly autonomously if needed. Has a reusable composite structure and is designed to work with any any launch vehicle that can handle the payload. It is slated to be launched on a man rated Atlas 5 in development by ULA.
It's main propulsion system is 2 hybrid rocket motors with nitrous-oxide and hydroxyl-teminated polybutadiene(HTPB) and the attitude control system uses corn fuel ( I hate corn fuel in any internal combustion engine but I guess for space travel it's acceptable). No monometylhydrazine or hydrogentetroxide to corrode anything it touches or kill any precious wildlife and no cryogenic liquids to store on the launch pad. These less volatile fuels will make it easier to handle before liftoff and after it lands, bonus!
The thermal protection system(TPS) will use a NASA developed carbon fiber weaved , resin impregnated ablative heatsheild which will allow better ablation characteristics (I had the opportunity to attend a workshop at NASA Ames where NASA presented their heatshield design, pretty cool stuff). This includes reduced ablation rates which will save weight by using a thinner heatshield while meeting heat transfer requirements. The TPS will be replaced after every flight.
The Dream Chaser is scheduled to do its first orbital flight in 2016 and maybe a manned flight in 2017. Since schedule is never met in the aerospace industry, it probably won't but I'm putting on my hopes on the success this spacecraft.