As NASA’s Morpheus Makes its Final Flight, Moon Express Begins Testing at KSC

Morpheus : Image Credit NASA

Bit by bit, NASA’s vision of the Kennedy Space Center as a 21st century spaceport is taking shape, offering an interesting mix of public and private spaceflight. And bit by bit, the spaceport which launched mankind to the Moon, is helping to send machines back.

As Florida Today reports, as Monday drew to a close, NASA successfully completed the last planned flight of its Morpheus vehicle before it is shipped back to the Johnson Space Center. After an inauspicious beginning which saw the 10 foot wide, methane powered lander crash in flames on its first untethered flight in 2012, a replacement unit began a series of ALHAT (Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology) tests which ended yesterday. The final flight was also its most impressive; with the vehicle allowed to fly “free” without a predetermined trajectory, using laser guidance to navigate the hazard field set up at the north end of the Shuttle Landing Facility. Morpheus climbed to an altitude of 800 feet, and then traveled 1300 feet before coming to a landing.

Even as NASA’s Morpheus was wrapping up, testing is beginning to get underway for Moon Express, one of three companies which won a share of NASA’s Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (CATALYST) initiative. CATALYST is intended to “advance lander capabilities that will enable delivery of payloads to the surface of the moon.” The other two winners are Astrobotic Technology Inc, which last week introduced its MoonMail program, and Masten Space Systems, which is offering a series of small horizontal takeoff and landing craft for suborbital research.

Moon Express, which along with Astrobotic is considered a leading competitor in the Google Lunar XPrize, is addressing its KSC program gradually, beginning with a 110% pressurization of the propellant tank of the first of three test articles, the MTV-1X.  ME will follow a plan similar to that which NASA undertook with Morpheus, beginning with tethered tests and then progressing to free flight as experience is accumulated.

The critical difference is that while Morpheus is a technology demonstrator,  the MX-1 is the real thing, a contemporary version of much of the same technology NASA is proving, with Moon Express hoping to become the first private company to record such a feat.

In related news, the British effort Lunar Mission One has reached its 600,000 pound stirling (nearly $1 million USD) funding target on Kickstarter with hours to go.

Million down, many more to go Image Credit Lunar Mission One

Million down, many more to go
Image Credit Lunar Mission One


Posted in: Moon, NASA, NewSpace

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