“This was by far the coolest rocket flight I’ve ever seen!” said Ian Garcia, Guidance, Navigation, and Controls Engineer for Masten Space Systems.
I’ll second that! With their motto, “Just gas ’em up and go!” the Masten team today successfully demonstrated in-air engine re-light capability on their Xombie vehicle, and this was the first time that a vertical take-off, vertical landing vehicle has successfully performed a such a re-ignition during flight.
“We’re extremely excited and very proud to announce that we now have in-air re-light capability,” said David Masten, CEO. “The ability to turn off our engine, re-ignite it in flight, successfully regain control and land was the next big milestone as we expand our flight envelope to include high altitude flights. Each milestone we hit makes the path to space much clearer.”
Unlike regular rocket engines that keep firing until the fuel runs out, vehicles like the Xombie can conserve fuel by shutting down their engines during the coast and re-entry phase of a flight. Being able to re-light the main engine provides flexibility on what can be accomplished during a flight, and combining throttle-ability and restart-ability in the same propulsion system improves vehicle capability and operability.
Masten hopes to develop a retail-like buying experience for those looking to purchase launch vehicles, and are developing vehicles that they hope will provide reduced costs and a larger range of mission options by focusing on development and operational processes that ensure speed to market and extremely fast turn around times.
For this test, the Masten team engineered the propulsion and vehicle systems to allow for a 2 second cycle time from shutdown to restart. Masten said in a press release that their internally developed engine technology is crucial for higher altitude flights with access to premium microgravity, as well as for upper atmospheric scientific measurements.
Masten is also working on vehicle development tasks such as supersonic aerodynamics, aerodynamic controls and space-capable electronics. They won the NASA and Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge in 2009.