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Wed, May 13, 2009

Masten Space’s XA-0.1B-750 Vehicle Completes First Flight

Don't let anyone kid you, despite the fact that the XPrize was won several years ago, the development of commercial space programs remains a fervent pursuit for a chosen group of visionaries. Masten Space Systems tells ANN that they have completed their first vertical take-off, vertical-landing (VTVL) rocket flight demonstration. The demonstration proved out the design and controls of the 730lb rocket-powered vehicle, known as XA-0.1B-750 or “Xombie”, its internal nickname.

While the vehicle was attached to a safety tether, it took off, ascended a few meters, descended, and shut down its engine as designed. The instant the engine shut off the entire team yelled, “YES!”

“This is the first big step to providing fully reusable spaceflight,” said company CEO David Masten. “Larger vehicles, using the same technologies tested here, will be capable of taking a 220 pound payload to 75 miles and be reused without requiring lengthy refurbishment.”

The vehicle is fitted with a liquid-fueled rocket engine running on isopropyl alcohol and liquid oxygen designed in house at Masten Space Systems. “While there are a few tweaks we plan on making, these engines are performing well enough to be ready for commercial customers” said propulsion engineer Jonathan Goff. “Xombie has been an excellent platform to show off the engine’s capabilities,” he said.

The engine is capable of putting out 850 pounds of force. The vehicle is stabilized by a two-axis main engine gimbal and four reaction control thrusters. The engine can point 15 degrees away from the vehicle centerline, more than four times as far as most competitors.

This vehicle was refitted from a four-engine test vehicle in one month, and the reaction control thrusters and computer system were developed in less than two weeks.

“This program has demonstrated the agility of our small team when presented with an interesting challenge,” said project manager Ben Brockert. “We apply the same skills and speed to customer projects,” he said. Masten anticipates that payload space on low altitude commercial flights will be available by the end of 2009. “We’re happy to provide payload space for research, Technology Readiness Level acceleration, or quality assurance. This flight, along with our Department of Defense SBIR contract, represents a significant new phase for the company,” said Michael Mealling, Vice President of Business Development.

Masten Space Systems is a Mojave, CA based aerospace company developing fully reusable VTVL launch vehicles, rocket-related products, and engineering services. The company’s 6000 square foot production facility and 100,000 sq foot testing facility is located on the Mojave Air and Space Port. The company designs and builds aerospace solutions that focus on durability, long operational lifetimes, and minimal per-flight maintenance.

FMI: www.masten-space.com

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