A privately owned prototype space plane aced its debut test flight in California but was damaged after landing when a wheel did not drop down, developer Sierra Nevada Corp said on Tuesday (October 29).

The Dream Chaser is one of three space taxis under development in partnership with NASA to fly astronauts to the International Space Station following the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011.

While competitors Space Exploration Technologies - a privately owned firm also known as SpaceX - and Boeing are working on seven-person capsules that return to Earth via parachutes, Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser resembles a miniature space shuttle with wings to glide down for a runway landing.

A full-size Dream Chaser model was carried to an altitude of about 12,500 feet by a heavy-lift helicopter and released for a minute-long glide back to the runway.

After being released, the autonomously controlled Dream Chaser successfully positioned itself for flight, flared its nose to slow for touchdown and settled on the runway, Sirangelo said.

However, one of the vehicle's three landing gears did not deploy, causing the plane to skid off the landing strip and end up in the sand, he said.

Engineers are still assessing how much damage was sustained. Sirangelo said the crew cabin and on-board computers were not damaged.

NASA hopes to buy rides commercially to carry its astronauts to the space station by 2017.

Presented by Adam Justice