Spacecraft Test Flight Ends With Gear Damage
A full-scale test article built by Sierra Nevada Corporation in support of its effort to build a commercial crew and cargo vehicle that would serve the International Space Station flew freely for the first time last Saturday, completing a smooth descent and landing, but it then skidded off the runway when one landing gear failed to properly deploy. The lifting-body Dream Chaser autonomous test vehicle was carried to 12,500 feet by an Erickson Air-Crane helicopter above Edwards Air Force Base. After its release, the company said, "The vehicle adhered to the design flight trajectory throughout the flight profile." Less than a minute later, Dream Chaser smoothly flared and touched down at 160 knots on the runway centerline, but the left main gear did not extend, and the aircraft skidded off the side of the runway.
Mark Sirangelo, space systems chief for SNC, said at a news conference on Tuesday that damage to the craft was light and repairable. Also, he noted that the gear used on the test vehicle is not the same design that's intended for the final spacecraft. The crew compartment was undamaged, and if a crew had been aboard, they would have been unhurt, he said. Sirangelo added that despite the gear problem, he considers the flight test a success. "What we did come away with was terrific data," Sirangelo said. "We have been able to design, build and fly a new lifting-body autonomous aircraft." He said the vehicle can probably be repaired and used for further flight tests. A vehicle that will be used for orbital test flights is already in the works, he said. He added that the accident isn't likely to have a significant impact on the project's schedule. SNC is in competition with SpaceX and Boeing to design a replacement for the Space Shuttle.