A mini space shuttle funded by a private company with a goal of bringing astronauts to space within five years got off to a rough start this week when it crashed off the runway in one of its first test missions.
The Dream Chaser is an aircraft being developed by Sierra Nevada Corp. with hopes that it will one day become functional. On Saturday the Nevada-based company conducted a test run of the mini space shuttle at Edwards Air Force Base in California, dropping the craft from 12,500 feet.
The shuttle did fairly well in the test, but at the very end its landing gear malfunctioned, sending the aircraft skidding off the runway.
Mark Sirangelo, space systems chief for Sierra Nevada Corp, said the mini space shuttle wasn’t too damaged, and astronauts would have been able to walk away from the hypothetical crash unharmed. Even the shuttle’s computers continued to work during the crash.
The company is one of several that are vying to carry NASA astronauts into orbit. Sierra Nevada Corp. actually worked closely with NASA on the creation of the Dream Chaser.
“The spacecraft is being refined and validated through partnership agreements with seven NASA field centers, ensuring maximum customer insight and access throughout the development and testing process,” the company notes. “But then, NASA is more than just a customer … it is a trusted partner in our endeavor to provide broad utilization of space.”
NASA has already begun privatization efforts after retiring the space shuttles in 2011. The agency now uses private companies to ship cargo to the space station, and astronauts traveling to space are using Russian Soyuz capsules.
Despite the crash, Sierra Nevada Corp. officials said the mini space shuttle test mission was a success. The company has more test flights planned, and hopes to conduct an orbital flight demo of the Dream Chaser in 2016, with the first manned mission in 2017.