Dream Chaser malfunction was mechanical

LOUISVILLE – Sierra Nevada Corp. announced this week that a landing gear malfunction during a Dream Chaser spacecraft test flight was mechanical in nature and not design-related.

The Dream Chaser, a seven-passenger orbital vehicle built in Louisville before being shipped to California in May for testing, performed a mostly successful flight in its first autonomous free-flight approach-and-landing test Oct. 26 at Edwards Air Force Base.

But despite the vehicle’s systems properly issuing commands for the landing gear to deploy, the left gear did not deploy in time, causing Dream Chaser to skid off the runway and sustain some damage to its outer protective coating and shell.

“The landing investigation is complete,” Mark Sirangelo, head of SNC Space Systems, said in a prepared statement. “The landing gear issue was deemed to be unrelated to the design of the vehicle and a one-off isolated incident. … After the post flight evaluation, the vehicle was deemed to be fully repairable and a schedule to return it to flight has been created.”

Sirangelo said the landing gear used on the test flight is not the same one that will be used in the operational orbital vehicles. He added that SNC expects to fly the test vehicle again at Edwards Air Force Base in 2014 with additional capability, though a date has not been established.

Dream Chaser, which can be piloted or flown autonomously, is being designed as a replacement to the retired space shuttles, and is slated for its first space mission for NASA by 2016.

Outside the landing gear failure, the Oct. 26 test flight achieved glowing results. It helped SNC complete all of the milestones required under NASA’s Commercial Crew Development 2 phase. SNC said Dream Chaser’s performance during flight exceeded predictions and requirements.

After extensive post-flight analysis, SNC received the full $8 million award from NASA for achieving the CCDev2 milestone.

“The spacecraft met or exceeded the over 40 expected flight criteria and preflight targets, fully meeting all milestone requirements from NASA per the CCDev 2 milestone 13 criteria,” Sirangelo said. “We collected a significant amount of data that we needed for flight evaluation including the majority of the data we expected to achieve in the second test flight.”

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