Dream Chaser Flips Over After Landing

Dream Chaser in a captive carry flight over the Mojave. (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation
Dream Chaser in a captive carry flight over the Mojave. (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation

NASASpaceflight.com reports that a test flight of the Dream Chaser min-shuttle went awry earlier today at Edwards Air Force Base in California:

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser ETA (Engineering Test Article) conducted her maiden flight at the Dryden Flight Research Center on Saturday. However, the Commercial Crew prospect – after enjoying a perfect flight in the air – suffered a mechanical failure during landing, resulting in her flipping over on the runway….

During the test on Saturday, all systems performed admirably during the free flight.

However, via what is being classed as a mechanical failure of the left landing gear (failure to deploy), the ETA lost control when “weight on wheels”, and flipped over on the runway.

Notably, the main landing gear on the ETA is not the same as what set to be employed on future Dream Chasers.

The vehicle was dropped from a helicopter. There’s no word on how much damage the Dream Chaser ETA suffered.

  • therealdmt

    Oh man, what a kick in the nuts!

    I was just telling my wife that it’s all over for the Dream Chaser after reading the headline here, but after reading the article, it actually passed the flight test. They just (“just” – maybe a lot easier said than done) need to beef up the landing gear (or improve the auto landing system?) and they could have their vehicle. But if money is tight, this could be the end.

    Tough news. Here’s hoping they have the resiliency (and funds) to bounce back, learn from this and continue…

  • dr

    Landing gear collapse… Sounds like its in fashion…
    SpaceshipOne suffered a left landing gear collapse at the end of its first supersonic powered flight(Flight 11P). A roll oscillation on landing caused the landing gear to fail and SS1 to leave the runway.
    SpaceshipOne suffered minor damage that was repaired in a few weeks. That vehicle went on to claim the Ansari X-Prize about ten months later.
    I would expect that DreamChaser will recover from this setback.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    SNC statement:
    Today, Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) performed its first free-flight approach-and-landing test of the Dream Chaser® spacecraft. 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.

  • Tombomb123

    Hopefully they will show the video of it but I doubt that it will ever see the light of day! Anyway this could be the final nail in dream chaser’s coffin. Thank god for competition.

  • therealdmt

    They’re starting off with a good attitude at least. This could range anywhere from a bump in the road to a show stopper. You have to figure, with how slow they’ve been going overall, that this will cause at the least a multiple months delay.

    Hopefully the aircraft is in decent shape, they get the gear issue ironed out, and they can fly the same craft again.

    Worst case is they lose financial backing (in this case, congress via NASA) as their source of funds loses confidence and moves on to investments more likely to offer decent, timely returns. If that happens, its scramble for alternate funding sources time — but the problem there is that their first source of funds is also their main customer. If NASA/congress pull out of the funding, they’re also pulling away from being the customer any time soon. At that point, the whole business model must then be called into question.

  • therealdmt

    Main thing is for the Sierra Nevada team to role up their sleeves, get back to work, do it again and do it right — while there’s still time left on the clock.

    It’s good to hear they’ve got the right attitude to start that process.

  • therealdmt

    Good reminder. A landing gear collapse doesn’t mean one has to throw away an entire [otherwise perfectly good] aircraft program.

  • DougSpace

    It would be nice if they would / could announce an estimate of when the damage will be fixed and when they expect their next flight to occur. To my mind, a flip over at the speed of first touchdown Luke mean significant damage. At this point, is ther a second vehicle or are all their eggs in this one basket?

  • John Bradley

    Given the length of time between flights, hopeful the damage can be repaired while the data is analysed.

  • delphinus100

    And there was DC-X, lost because one leg of four failed to extend, and it fell over after an otherwise normal vertical landing…

  • dr

    “The pilot would have walked away” – SNC engineer Scott Southwell


  • Tonya

    I wouldn’t take that quote too literally. A 200mph crash is certainly something the crew can survive without life changing injuries if protected properly, but you’re very unlikely to be walking away from the vehicle.

  • Hug Doug

    was it going 200 mph?

  • therealdmt

    It’s touchdown speed is 200mph (I’ve seen listed). That’s faster than a commercial airliner, for example.

  • Aerospike

    As far as I know, this was an “engineering test article” (ETA) that wasn’t even “the real thing”, at least not with regards to space-worthiness. Also I’ve read on various sites that the main landing gear on the ETA ist the same as on the final design.

    However I do not know how far a long the first “real” Dream Chaser is.

  • Hug Doug

    yes, that is faster than a commercial airliner, which is why it seemed fast to me.

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