MELBOURNE, Fla. (USA TODAY) -- Damage to a mini-shuttle being developed in partnership with NASA to fly astronauts is being assessed after a hard landing during its first, unpiloted free flight test Saturday in California.
The left landing gear of Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Dream Chaser failed to deploy as the vehicle glided to a touchdown at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., after being dropped from a helicopter.
Louisville, Colo.-based Sierra Nevada is investigating the anomaly and did not provide details about the condition of the Dream Chaser test vehicle.
However, early indications are that it can be repaired and fly again.
"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," the company said in a statement.
The Dream Chaser is one of three private spacecraft — and the only winged system — in development under NASA's Commercial Crew Program, with public and private funding.
Boeing's CST-100 and SpaceX's Dragon, both capsules, are the others.
The Dream Chaser had previously completed two captive carry tests, dangled from a helicopter, and a series of tow tests at increasing speeds on an Edwards runway.
"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."
— Sierra Nevada Corp., in a statement
The autonomous approach and landing test was performed under the second round of NASA's development program.
In total, NASA could contribute up to $362 million toward development of the Dream Chaser, which resembles a miniature space shuttle measuring nearly 30 feet long with a 29-foot wingspan, and is designed to carry up to seven crew members.
Sierra Nevada said the test flight went well up until the very end, with the flight control system guiding the Dream Chaser through the proper trajectory and flaring its nose up just before touchdown on the runway's centerline.
"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," the company said in a statement.
After the spacecraft designs are completed, NASA plans to award contracts to one or two companies next summer to continue building and testing systems, aiming to fly astronauts to the International Space Station by 2017.
If selected, Sierra Nevada intends to base its Dream Chaser program at Kennedy Space Center. The spacecraft would launch from Cape Canaveral on an Atlas V rocket and return for landings on Kennedy's former shuttle runway.