Dream Chaser down, but not out after mechanical failure

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) and their Dream Chaser space plane had a little bit of a mishap a couple of days ago. A landing gear failed to deploy, causing the space plane to skid off the runway upon landing.

First, the crash could have been much worse. Had there been a crew aboard, they would have walked away pretty much unscathed. SNC is reporting that not only was the crew cabin not ruptured during the crash, but all the delicate instrumentation within the crew cabin was fully intact and still recording data after the Dream Chaser came to rest.

SNC is quick to comment that up until the moment the landing gear failed, the test had gone swimmingly. The Dream Chaser glided perfectly to the center line of the runway and would have made an exemplary landing, if not for that darned landing gear. The specific way the landing gear failed is still under investigation, but a gear malfunction is thought to be at fault.

It's worth mentioning that the landing gear in question is actually a "heritage" part, meaning that it was scavenged from an old fighter jet. SNC used the older landing gear because the current Dream Chaser prototype was only ever slated to complete two autonomous flights. The final version of the space plane would, of course not be equipped with any previously used parts.

Whether or not the current prototype will complete its second slated flight is the current question on the table at SNC. The data collected from the first flight is completely intact and shows a lot of promise. Being that the exterior of the space plane would have to be repaired before a second attempt (and even then flight data might be less reliable), if the team at SNC determines that this first flight actually collected all the data they need, the prototype could be retired.

If that ends up being the case, this week's crash landing might actually speed up the development of the Dream Chaser. All in all, the cloud that has hovered over the space plane's latest test does actually seem to be largely made up of silver linings. The prototype that crash landed could fly again, but might not need to. A shiny new space plane with purpose-built landing gear is in the works, and nobody was hurt. As the old saying goes, any landing you can walk away from is a good one. As for the folks at SNC, they can walk away from this one with their heads held high, looking toward that perfect space plane of the future.

Sierra Nevada Corporation, via Space.com

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