Good news and no news from Sierra Nevada (updated)

Dream Chaser ETA before landing

SNC’s Dream Chaser engineering test article (ETA) moments before landing at Edwards Air Force Base on October 26. The image is a still from a video released by the company on October 29; the video cuts off before the actual landing but the missing left main gear is evident in the video. (credit: SNC)

On Monday, Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) announced some good news about the development of its Dream Chaser crewed spacecraft: NASA had certified the company had achieved the final milestone of its Commercial Crew Development phase 2 (CCDev-2) award with its October 26 glide flight at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The vehicle’s “performance during flight exceeded predictions and requirements,” the company said in its press release, and NASA had awarded the company the full value of that milestone, $8 million, according to its amended Space Act Agreement with NASA for CCDev-2.

“SNC is pleased to begin flight testing and to have successfully completed the CCDev2 agreement with passage of this most recent milestone,” SNC executive vice president Mark Sirangelo said in a statement. “Having the Dream Chaser flight exceed our expectations on its first autonomous flight was an extraordinary accomplishment for SNC, its team of industry, government and university partners, and all those who worked on the NASA heritage HL-20 vehicle that Dream Chaser is based on.”

The completion of the milestone closes out SNC’s CCDev-2 agreement and allows the company to focus on its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) award it received from NASA in August 2012. SNC will also likely submit a proposal for the next round of the program, Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap); proposals are due to NASA in late January with awards expected in summer 2014.

While the press release emphasized the good news about the milestone, there was something missing in the press release: any additional details about the Dream Chaser’s landing mishap. As the vehicle came in to land at Edwards, the left landing gear failed to deploy, causing the vehicle to skid off the runway. In a call with reporters a few days after the test, SNC’s Sirangelo downplayed the damage to the vehicle, saying it was “repairable and flyable” and that the flight overall was a “significant success.”

The press release issued by SNC Monday makes no mention of the landing gear problem or the status of the Dream Chaser engineering test article. A separate statement by NASA only alludes to “an anomaly during landing and rollout” without going into more detail. The release also offered no new photos or video of the October 26 test or aftermath.

Update 12/18 7 am: SNC did respond late yesterday to a few questions about the status of the Dream Chaser vehicle and the investigation into the landing gear failure. “The landing gear issue was deemed to be unrelated to the design of the vehicle and a one-off isolated incident,” a spokesperson said, adding that the test article used “heritage F-5 landing gear” that won’t be used on orbital vehicles. The company is working to return the test article to flight status, with additional drop tests planned to take place at Edwards some time in 2014 (the company did not offer a more specific schedule.)

As for additional footage of the flight? “At this time SNC is not going to release any additional photos or video regarding the free-flight test,” the spokesperson said.

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