Testing Picks Back Up

After sticking to the ground for upgrades the past several months, the Project Morpheus prototype lander took to the skies at Johnson Space Center again on Tuesday.

Since its last round of tests in 2011, the Morpheus team has given the liquid oxygen/liquid methane-fueled lander a new engine, new avionics and a power unit redesign. In addition, the vehicle software has been substantially updated in preparation for the integration of its Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT) payload. The lander has the same oxygen and methane tanks, and the same structure, but otherwise it’s practically an all-new vehicle.

“The first series of tests gave us a basic understanding of our ability to control the vehicle and allowed us to initially characterize the performance of the subsystems on the vehicle,” Morpheus Project Manager Jon Olansen said. “With that information we were able to go back and design in upgrades to improve performance and reliability.”

Once the upgrades were complete, it was time to start up a new series of tests. Like last time, they started with hot fire tests to demonstrate engine operation, and this week worked up to tethered testing. On Tuesday, the refitted lander successfully hovered 15 feet above the ground for 40 seconds, firing the engine for a total of 50 seconds with ignition, ascent and descent.