The engineering test article of Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser commercial crew vehicle made its first free flight on Saturday at Edwards Air Force Base in California on Saturday, but suffered the failure of a landing gear upon landing.
According to an official SNC statement, the vehicle released from an Erickson Air-Crane helicopter at 11:10 am PDT (2:10 pm, 1810 GMT) Saturday, gliding back from an unspecified altitude to a runway landing at Edwards. That glide flight, the first for Dream Chaser after a series of taxi and captive carry tests, went well until Dream Chaser landed on the centerline of runway 22L at Edwards less than a minute after release. An “anomaly” with the left gear then occurred, but neither SNC nor NASA offered additional details. A statement on the NASA Dryden website said no one was injured and “damage to property is being assessed.”
No other information, nor any photos or video, of the flight test have been released by NASA or SNC, making it difficult to determine the extent of damage to the test article. A report by NASASpaceFlight.com, citing unnamed sources, said the vehicle flipped over on the runway after suffering a mechanical failure of the gear.
This is not the first time an experimental spaceplane has suffered landing gear problems. Nearly ten years ago, SpaceShipOne (SS1) suffered a failure of its left landing gear during a hard landing at Mojave Airport after its first powered test flight. “A nominal landing pattern was flown, but touchdown caused the left main gear to collapse and the vehicle rolled to a stop off the runway in the soft sand,” the test log entry for that flight explains. The vehicle suffered only minor damage and was flying again in early March 2004.
SNC added a philosophical note to the end of their press release about the flight, a reminder that these are, after all, test flights where things can and do go wrong: “As with any space flight test program, there will be anomalies that we can learn from, allowing us to improve our vehicle and accelerate our rate of progress.”