Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Space Systems, based in Louisville, announced this morning that the first free-flight approach-and-landing test of its Dream Chaser space vehicle on Saturday suffered a failed deployment of its left-side landing gear, causing the spacecraft to veer off the runway, coming to a stop in a swirl of sand and dust.
But in a conference call with reporters today, company head Mark Sirangelo said the test was a success in every other respect, and that Saturday's incident is not viewed as a serious setback.
"It was a very good day, marred by a small glitch at the end of the day, but it did not take away from a pretty amazing aerospace achievement, in my view of it," he said.
The test occurred in California, where the Dream Chaser -- designed to once again shuttle American astronauts into space -- was released from an Erickson Air-Crane helicopter into a one-minute unmanned glide slope onto runway 22L at Edwards Air Force Base.
Sirangelo said the left-side landing gear's unsuccessful deployment was believed to be mechanical in nature, not a failure of any software associated with the aircraft. The Dream Chaser suffered some external damage in the rough landing, he said, but all core components of the space vehicle were unaffected.
Saturday's test was the first of what were scheduled to be two tests of its unmanned landing capabilities, but Sirangelo said the initial test was such a success -- other than its landing -- that the second may not even be necessary.
The purpose of the initial landing test, he said, was "about getting the data you need. If it takes 10 flights, you do 10, if it takes one flight, you do one. We're trying to determine what we need to do, to fill in the gaps -- if there were gaps. That's what we're doing now."
Sierra Nevada was awarded $212.5 million by NASA to develop Dream Chaser, designed to carry up to seven personnel, with the initial aim of ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
The company, prior to Saturday's test, had hoped to make its first orbital test flight in 2016, launched on an Atlas V rocket. Sirangelo said today that timetable had not changed.
The company posted a video of Saturday's test, but that video did not include the landing.
"When it landed, it was on its gear, as if it had stopped on the runway," Sirangelo said. "It wasn't pointing to the sky or anything."
Original headline: Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser suffers bumpy debut in California landing test
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