Space

First glide test of Dream Chaser spacecraft successful, but ends in a flip

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has carried out the first gliding approach and landing test of its Dream Chaser spacecraft (Photo: SNC)
Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has carried out the first gliding approach and landing test of its Dream Chaser spacecraft (Photo: SNC)
View 7 Images
Artist's conception of the Dream Chaser linked up with the International Space Station (Photo: Sierra Nevada)
1/7
Artist's conception of the Dream Chaser linked up with the International Space Station (Photo: Sierra Nevada)
The Dream Chaser Engineering Test Article being towed during taxi maneuvering tests (Photo: Sierra Nevada)
2/7
The Dream Chaser Engineering Test Article being towed during taxi maneuvering tests (Photo: Sierra Nevada)
The Dream Chaser Engineering Test Article parked on a runway at Edwards AFB prior to Saturday's test and crash (Photo: Sierra Nevada)
3/7
The Dream Chaser Engineering Test Article parked on a runway at Edwards AFB prior to Saturday's test and crash (Photo: Sierra Nevada)
Artist's conception of the Dream Chaser Engineering Test Article landing on a conventional runway (Photo: Sierra Nevada)
4/7
Artist's conception of the Dream Chaser Engineering Test Article landing on a conventional runway (Photo: Sierra Nevada)
Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has carried out the first gliding approach and landing test of its Dream Chaser spacecraft (Photo: SNC)
5/7
Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has carried out the first gliding approach and landing test of its Dream Chaser spacecraft (Photo: SNC)
The Dream Chaser undergoing tow tests earlier this year (Photo: SNC / Ken Ulbrich)
6/7
The Dream Chaser undergoing tow tests earlier this year (Photo: SNC / Ken Ulbrich)
The Dream Chaser is designed to is designed to carry up to seven people to and from low earth orbit (Photo: NASA)
7/7
The Dream Chaser is designed to is designed to carry up to seven people to and from low earth orbit (Photo: NASA)

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) carried out the first gliding approach and landing test of their Dream Chaser spacecraft at Edwards Air Force Base on October 26. The vehicle dropped from its carrier aircraft at 11:10 am, and carried out gliding and landing maneuvers flawlessly. However, the left landing gear door did not function, causing the test spacecraft to flip on landing.

The Dream Chaser Engineering Test Article (ETA) holds roughly the same position in the development of the SNC spacecraft as the USS Enterprise did in the space shuttle program. Never intended for spaceflight, the ETA is strictly an atmospheric test vehicle, to be used to establish flight procedures and test the engineering design of the Dream Chaser for the descent and landing phases of a full flight.

The ETA was lifted to its drop altitude by an Erickson Air-Crane helicopter, capable of lifting a payload of 20,000 lb (9.1 tonnes) to an altitude of 9,000 feet (2,740 m). The drop height for Saturday's test has not yet been announced. Once released, the Dream Chaser autopilot system guided the unmanned vehicle to its preprogrammed glide slope, lined up right on the centerline of Edwards AFB Runway 22L, which led to a landing at a speed of 191 knots (360 kph). The total time in flight was less than a minute.

The Dream Chaser Engineering Test Article being towed during taxi maneuvering tests (Photo: Sierra Nevada)
The Dream Chaser Engineering Test Article being towed during taxi maneuvering tests (Photo: Sierra Nevada)

Unfortunately, the left landing gear did not deploy, causing the ETA to flip over in what has been described as a "spectacular crash" by Alan Boyle of NBC News. To add insult to injury, the landing gear were not those intended for use with the production Dream Chaser, but rather were adapted from the landing gear on the F5 fighter jet. On looking over the damage, Sierra Nevada is holding out hope for repairing the ETA, but it is not yet clear that this is a likely prospect within the structure of the entire project.

Sierra Nevada will host a teleconference on October 29 to brief media on the approach and landing test. A video of the flight will be released that reportedly does not include the crash footage. Sierra Nevada will indicate what this crash means for their participation in NASA's Commercial Crew Program, and where their next steps are likely to lead them.

Editor's note: (October 29): The early report that the Dream Chaser flipped on landing was incorrect. SNC now reports that it skidded off the runway and was damaged, but is likely to be repaired for further flight tests.

Source: Sierra Nevada Corporation

19 comments
Rusty Harris
Looks a lot like an update from the old X24A & X24B lifting bodies of the 60's & early 70's.
Chizzy
wasn't this supposed to happen summer 2012 from the scaled composites whiteknighttwo? what happened, why the delay, and why from a helicopter?
Leonard Foster Jr
is this what happen with the six million dollar man? wow no back up craft :(
Anne Ominous
I read elsewhere that this "lifting body" concept was roughly 20 years old... but that's false. Because I toured a model of a very similar lifting body craft when I was a child, making the basic design more than 40 years old.
Toffe Carling
Go to the Russians, they have both a nice Buran sitting around. Tho even better if you want to go small scale, is the test bed for the Buran. That one is green and sitting next to a HIND in a museum, on the outskirts of Moscow. (No don´t pronounce Moscow as Mos cow..if any thing its Mosckba). Excellent museum tho :D Sad about this accident tho, I am for any and all space stuff.
Leon Alexander
Well, this is so stupid. It is like going to climb Mount Everest and then getting involved into a car accident on the way to the first base camp. It would be a shame of they gave up because of the the stupid landing gear. It has nothing to do with the rest of the vehicle. Finally, 40 years after the concept of a lifting body was invented, some should make an actual lifting body vehicle.
BigGoofyGuy
http://www.nasa.gov/centers/dryden/history/pastprojects/Lifting/index.html It reminds me of the lifting body design by NASA. I think they were cool. I think this newer design is even cooler. They definitely improved the design, IMO.
Mark Eastaugh
Here ya go Chizzy, Spaceship 2's second flight, the flight test mentioned in the article above is a different company. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DB5DfD8ifVo&noredirect=1
Bob Higgins
Who pays the freight for this failure?
solutions4circuits
If you're going to use MY runway, and MY cleanup crew, I get to see the video of you throwing parts of your airplane all over it. -Joe Taxpayer