NASA’s Project Morpheus nailed it again today with yet another successful free flight of their prototype lander, soaring higher, faster, and farther than ever before! Go Morpheus!
The FF9 test, which occurred at 3:41 p.m. EDT at Kennedy Space Center, saw the 2,300-lb (1000-kg) Morpheus craft rise to a height of 580 feet (177 meters) and travel 837 feet (255 m) downrange at 30 mph (48 km/h). After the 85-second flight the craft set down almost exactly on target — only about a foot (.3 m) off.
During today’s test flight the oxygen-and-methane-propelled Morpheus could have cleared the Washington Monument.
The next step is to integrate the Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT) sensors, which allow the craft to identify dangerous terrain and determine the best route to a safe landing — all by itself. This capability will be invaluable for future landings on unexplored surfaces on the Moon and Mars.
“It’s never been done,” said Dr. Jon Olansen, project manager of the Morpheus Project, in 2012. “We’ve never landed of the moon or Mars with real-time hazard detection and avoidance. Most of the Mars missions use air bags. They go where they go, they roll them and they stop… whatever comes, comes.”
The above video should satisfy your daily need for rocket foom. Morpheus — a NASA testbed for vertical landing systems — did two firing tests this week that produced a fair amount of the usual fire and smoke, as you can see above.
You’ll actually see two separate firings in that video. In the first one, the lander strayed out of its safety zone and did a soft abort. The second test, NASA stated, “was a complete success.”
The first lander of the program crashed and burned in a test failure in August 2012, but officials recently praised the program for the progress it has made since then.
“Although a hardware failure led to the loss of the original vehicle last August, the failure and our internal investigation gave us valuable insight into areas that needed improvement,” a Project Morpheus blog post from May stated.
“The vehicle may look largely the same as the previous version, but there are numerous changes that have been incorporated. We have now implemented 70 different upgrades to the vehicle and ground systems to both address potential contributors to the test failure, and also to improve operability and maintainability.”
In the long run, NASA aims to use Morpheus as a “vertical test bed” for environmentally friendly propellants, as well as for automatic advances in landing and hazard detection.
The vehicle is advertised as big enough to land 1,100 pounds of cargo on the moon if it was placed nearby.