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WORLD: It only lasted a minute and it flew from just 12,500 feet, but the first suc­cess­ful test flight of a minia­ture, new-gen­er­a­tion space shut­tle was some­thing of a coup.

UNITED STATES: It only lasted a minute, and it flew from just 12,500 feet (3800 me­tres). But Sun­day’s first-ever suc­cess­ful test flight of a minia­ture, new­gen­er­a­tion space shut­tle was some­thing of a coup for the Sierra Ne­vada Corp, which had been wait­ing years to fly.

The com­pany is un­der con­tract from Nasa to fly its Dream Chaser space­plane to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion by 2020.

Un­like other space­craft - the cap­sules that look like the ve­hi­cles that flew in the Apollo era - the Dream Chaser has wings and wheels that al­low it to land on a run­way.

On Sun­day, it was dropped from a he­li­copter over the Mo­jave Desert in Cal­i­for­nia, and then glided to a run­way at Ed­wards Air Force Base.

The suc­cess­ful flight had no pas­sen­gers on board, and the ve­hi­cle flew it­self in­stead of be­ing con­trolled re­motely. ‘‘It was a re­ally good day. We had a full flight. We met all our goals. The ve­hi­cle landed safely, and there were ab­so­lutely no is­sues,’’ said Mark Si­rangelo, the head of Sierra Ne­vada Corp’s Space Sys­tems Di­vi­sion.

He said the fully au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle ‘‘flew it­self from the drop to the ground through the land­ing’’.

Along with Spacex and Or­bital ATK, Sierra Ne­vada is un­der con­tract from Nasa for as many as six cargo flights to the ISS.

The Dream Chaser, which looks like a smaller ver­sion of the Space Shut­tle, would ini­tially be launched on an At­las V rocket.

It is be­ing de­signed to land on run­ways and then al­low crews to ac­cess the ma­te­ri­als flown back to Earth soon af­ter land­ing.

The com­pany is also de­vel­op­ing a ver­sion of its shut­tle that could carry as many as seven pas­sen­gers to low Earth or­bit.

PHOTO: NASA

The Dream Chaser has had its first flight, af­ter be­ing dropped from 12,500 feet by a he­li­copter over the Mo­jave Desert.

Mark Si­rangelo

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