The prototype for the Dream Chaser spacecraft completed its first free-flying test on Saturday, but not without a few bumps in the road. After having trouble deploying its landing gear, the spacecraft sustained some damage, NBC News reports. The issues with the landing gear caused the spacecraft to tumble on the runway after descending, but preliminary reports suggest that the damage is repairable. The test was a key one for the spacecraft, which has previously been tested using captive-carry methods which do not require the Dream Chaser to be autonomous.
Part of a NASA-funded program, the Dream Chaser is being designed with the aim of transporting American astronauts to the International Space Station in American spaceships. Currently, NASA relies on Russia to get astronauts to the International Space Station. The Dream Chaser is the only winged spacecraft out of the three candidates that NASA is considering. In addition to supplies, it could carry seven passengers. Space X and Boeing have also proposed designs for the spacecraft that are more traditional. The spacecraft is launched on a rocket, but would land on a runway at the end of each trip. For the free-flying test on Saturday, the Dream Chaser was released at 12,000 feet from a helicopter.
The company released a video of the mostly-successful flight on their website, though it cuts off moments before the landing, preventing people from viewing the minor crash on the runway.
“It was a very good day, marred by a small glitch at the end of the day,” parent company Sierra Nevada’s Mark Sirangelo told reporters in a teleconference, according to Wired. “But it did not take away from a pretty amazing aerospace achievement, in my view of it.”
The aircraft will be examined closely by engineers so that repairs can be made to improve it.
“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,” Sierra Nevada Corporation said in a press release on Saturday.
The landing gear on the prototype is not the actual landing gear that the final model of the spacecraft will use. The landing gear that failed was borrowed from a fighter jet.