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Dream Chaser's first flight a success but with bumpy landing

Looking to develop the first commercial spacecraft to bring US astronauts to the International Space Station, Sierra Nevada Corporation begins flight tests of its winged Dream Chaser.

The Dream Chaser spacecraft.

The inaugural free-flight test of Sierra Nevada Corporation's prized spacecraft, the "Dream Chaser," was successful -- notwithstanding a rocky landing.

After a carrier aircraft seamlessly released the Dream Chaser into the air, the spacecraft steered through its intended flight path and smoothly touched down on the centerline of California's Edwards Air Force Base runway on Saturday. However, the Dream Chaser's left-side landing gear failed to deploy, causing the spacecraft to then tilt over and skid off the tarmac.

Despite the botched landing, Sierra Nevada Corporation is heralding this first flight a success and good learning experience.

"While there was an anomaly with the left landing gear deployment, 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," Sierra Nevada Corporation wrote in a statement. "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."

Ever since NASA retired its space shuttle program in 2011, private companies like Sierra Nevada, SpaceX, and Boeing have been competing for a contract that would allow them to fly astronauts to the International Space Station. NASA awarded Sierra Nevada $212.5 million in August 2012 to continue developing the winged Dream Chaser.

Unlike SpaceX and Boeing's designs, the Dream Chaser is a small space plane originally developed by NASA as a space station lifeboat. The spacecraft's lifting body seats seven and can launch vertically from an Atlas 5 rocket. Like the now-retired space shuttle, the Dream Chaser should be able to dock with the International Space Station, and then return to Earth like a glider, landing on a runway.

Successful tests of the Dream Chaser could help end US reliance on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to get people to the International Space Station, which costs US taxpayers more than $60 million a seat.

Sierra Nevada released the below video on Monday showing the Dream Chaser's first free-flight test. While viewers can see that the left side landing gear failed to deploy, the video does not show the spacecraft's touchdown and skid off the runway.