A test article of the lifting body Dream Chaser spaceship built by Sierra Nevada Corp., one of several companies receiving NASA funding to develop a commercial space taxi, made a crash landing on a runway at California’s Edwards Air Force Base on Saturday, sources and news reports said.
Engineers blamed the mishap on a problem during deployment of the Dream Chaser’s left landing gear, which is derived the main gear used by the U.S. Air Force’s F-5E Tiger fighter jet.
The test flight over the Mojave Desert was conducted autonomously – without a pilot in the cockpit – after the Dream Chaser’s release from a Sikorsky S-64 helicopter operated by Erickson Air Crane at 11:10 a.m. Pacific time (2:10 p.m. EDT; 1810 GMT), according to Sierra Nevada.
“Following release, the Dream Chaser spacecraft automated flight control system gently steered the vehicle to its intended glide slope,” Sierra Nevada said in a statement. “The vehicle adhered to the design flight trajectory throughout the flight profile. Less than a minute later, Dream Chaser smoothly flared and touched down on Edwards Air Force Base’s Runway 22L right on centerline.”
Sierra Nevada officials said earlier this year each landing test would begin with a drop from 12,000 feet and last between 30 and 40 seconds as the Dream Chaser flies at an approximately 23-degree glide angle, ending with a flare maneuver about 300 feet above the desert and touchdown at a speed of more than 200 mph.
“While there was an anomaly with the left landing gear deployment, the high-quality flight and telemetry data throughout all phases of the approach-and-landing test will allow SNC teams to continue to refine their spacecraft design,” the Sierra Nevada statement said.
Mark Sirangelo, Sierra Nevada’s corporate vice president for space systems, said the flight was “largely a successful test that had a nonflight issue on landing.”