Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser space plane damaged during first test flight

Back in December of 2012 NASA awarded a total of $30 million to three different private space companies. Each of the three companies received about $10 million and included Boeing, SpaceX, and Sierra Nevada Corp. So far, SpaceX has been the most successful with its Dragon capsule already having traveled to the ISS.

The company we've heard the least about is Sierra Nevada. The company recently announced that its Dream Chaser spaceplane conducted its first free flight test. The test occurred on Saturday and the company reports that the aircraft released from its carrier aircraft, which was an Erickson Air-Crane helicopter, without incident.

Officials from Sierra Nevada also say that after release, the aircraft was able to assume automated flight control and the vehicle steered onto its intended glide slope. Everything was going fine as the vehicle glided to the ground and flared for landing. However, during touchdown an "anomaly" occurred with the left landing gear.

With the left landing gear failing to deploy properly, the aircraft skidded off the runway where it was testing at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The Dream Chaser uses a lifting body design that was pioneered by NASA 20 years ago and looks like a smaller version of the retired space shuttle. The spacecraft is intended to carry up to seven passengers to and from the space station along with cargo. Early reports indicate that the Dream Chaser can be repaired.