Masten Space Systems’ unmanned Xombie rocket recently made a successful flight test, flying from one pad to another and landing again. This was the first free-flight test for Xombie as part of NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program. Using the GENIE (Guidance Embedded Navigator Integration Environment) System, the Xombie suborbital rocket lifted off 50 meters to a stable hover, then flew laterally down range 50 meters, and then landed safely during a controlled 50 meter descent. The testing, which exercised the autonomous guidance, navigation, and control technology needed to fly planetary landing trajectories, was conducted at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.
Last year, Masten was awarded a two-year contract to fly research and technology payloads to suborbital space. NASA hopes this program will enable regular, reliable and low-cost access to near-space, with easy recovery of intact payloads.
Six other private spaceflight companies — including Virgin Galactic, Armadillo Aerospace and XCOR Aerospace — also received funding. Altogether, the contracts are worth a total of $10 million.
Other rocket technologies that Masten is working on includes a new engine called “Scimitar,” which throttles between 1100 lbf (pound force) and 300 lbf, and incorporates a number of new technologies, and the 3000lbf Katana engine.
Masten says they have also recently signed contracts with other non-governmental entities.
In 2009, Masten won a $1 million prize in a the NASA-backed Northrup Grumman Lunar Landing Challenge, a simulated lunar landing contest using the Xombie rocket.