Prototype Low-Cost Lander Crashed And Burned In First Autonomous Flight Test
While NASA celebrates the success of the Curiosity Rover landing on Mars, another program suffered a setback Thursday when the Morpheus Lander prototype crashed and burned only a few seconds after lifting off on its first autonomous test flight.
In a video release, NASA said that "during the free flight test of the Project Morpheus vehicle at the Shuttle Landing Facility, the vehicle lifted off the ground and then experienced a hardware component failure. This failure prevented the vehicle from maintaining stable flight.
"No one was injured and the resulting fire was extinguished by Kennedy Space Center fire personnel.
"Failures such as these were anticipated prior to the test, and are part of the development process for any complex spaceflight hardware."
The Associated Press reports that NASA said the likely cause of the crash was component in the GPS navigation system.
Morpheus had successfully completed 19 tethered test flights before Thursday's first untethered attempt, including one last Friday.
According to the program's blog, Morpheus is a vertical test bed vehicle demonstrating new green propellant propulsion systems and autonomous landing and hazard detection technology.
Designed, developed, manufactured and operated in-house by engineers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the Morpheus Project represents not only a vehicle to advance technologies, but also an opportunity to try out “lean development” engineering practices.
Morpheus is a NASA-designed vehicle. It was manufactured and assembled at JSC and Armadillo Aerospace. Morpheus is large enough to carry 1,100 pounds of cargo to the moon – for example, a humanoid robot, a small rover, or a small laboratory to convert moon dust into oxygen – performing all propellant burns after the trans lunar injection. The primary focus of the test bed is to demonstrate an integrated propulsion and guidance, navigation and control system that can fly a lunar descent profile to exercise the Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT) safe landing sensors and closed-loop flight control.
The AP reports that NASA has spent some $7 million on the program, which includes parts for an as-yet-unbuilt second lander prototype.
(Image from NASA video)