KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla., Aug. 9 — During a free-flight test on Thursday, NASA’s Morpheus Moon Lander toppled mid-air, crashed, burst into flames and exploded almost immediately after liftoff. No one was injured. The cause of the failure and subsequent explosion is being investigated.
“It lifted off the ground and then experienced a hardware component failure, which prevented it from maintaining stable flight. No one was injured and the resulting fire was extinguished by Kennedy Space Center fire personnel. Engineers are looking into the test data and the agency will release information as it comes available,” NASA said in a statement.
“The primary focus of the test bed [was] to demonstrate an integrated propulsion and GN&C 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,” states NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab.
The beetle-like prototype was powered by liquid oxygen and methane propellants, which are safer, cheaper and more durable than traditional fuels, NASA officials say. The lander’s ALHAT system would employ laser-guided altimetry facilitating a completely automated touchdown.
The lander was designed to deliver a payload of 1,100 lbs. (500 kg) to the lunar surface, such as NASA’s humanoid Robonaut. Furthermore, Morpheus’ landing system could be modified to help a probe dock with an asteroid in space, according to NASA officials.
It was built and assembled at Armadillo Aerospace and the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The project cost about $7 million over the last 2 1/2 years.
NASA seems undaunted by the setback.
“Failures such as these were anticipated prior to the test and are part of the development process for any complex spaceflight hardware. What we learn from these tests will help us build the best possible system in the future,” NASA said.