The first free flight test of the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser spacecraft prototype ended in a catastrophic accident on October 26, 2013 when the vehicle’s landing gear failed to deploy properly on landing.
The company issued the following statement on the accident:
“The vehicle successfully released from its carrier aircraft, an Erickson Air-Crane helicopter, as planned at approximately 11:10 a.m. Pacific Standard Time. Following release, the Dream Chaser spacecraft automated flight control system gently steered the vehicle to its intended glide slope. 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. 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. SNC and NASA Dryden are currently reviewing the data. 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.”
Alan Boyle of NBC News adds that the accident was spectacular, with the vehicle flipping over on landing. However Sierra Nevada is hoping to repair the damage and continue testing with the same prototype.
The Dream Chaser is a lift body spacecraft being developed under NASA’s commercial crew program, funded with a $227.5 million subsidy from NASA. The vehicle is designed to launch vertically on an existing launcher, such as the Atlas V, and land horizontally on a runway, much as the space shuttle did. Dream Chaser is competing for a lucrative contract to take crews to and from the International Space Station with SpaceX and Boeing, both of which are developing their own spacecraft based on an Apollo capsule-style design.