Louisville, Colorado. October 29, 2013. Sierra Nevada Corporation says the first test flight of its Dream Chaser spacecraft on October 26 was a “significant success,” despite an anomaly of the left landing gear that caused the vehicle to skid off the runway.
During a teleconference today, company spokesman Mark Sirangelo told reporters that the tests had provided 99% of the planned data and confirmed that the Dream Chaser would fly as predicted. The test marked the first free-flight approach-and-landing test of the spacecraft and everything worked well until the end.
“Dream Chaser was released perfectly and followed a one minute flight path to the landing strip,” said Sirangelo. “Dream Chaser completed all commands to do approach and landing and … landed precisely on the runway where we wanted to land.”
Unfortunately, when the command was given to extend the landing gear before touchdown, only the right gear deployed. At that point, the craft suffered damage, but Sirangelo said that it was repairable and that if astronauts been on board, they would not have been hurt. He added that there was no damage to the vehicle’s internal shell or electronics, and that the anomaly did not invalidate any of the flight data.
Sierra Nevada is part of a development program designed to have American-built spacecraft carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station. SNC plans to have its first orbital flight demo in 2016 and its first crewed mission in 2017.
“Our timeline isn’t going to be affected by this,” said Sirangelo. He said the mishap is most likely due to mechanical failure and that an investigation is underway. He also noted that the landing gear is derived from F-5 fighter planes and is not part of the final design.
NASA will now have 30 days to determine if Dream Chaser has met its critical flightworthiness milestone.