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Forum:Exploration: Asteroids, Moon and Mars
Topic:Project Morpheus: NASA vertical testbed vehicle
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During this test the team ran liquid nitrogen through the fuel plumbing. This test allows them to check for leaks and other issues while using a relatively harmless replacement.
Robert PearlmanJohnson Space Center release
Project Morpheus to Begin Testing at NASA's Johnson Space Center

Neighbors of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston may notice some loud noises coming from the 1,600-acre site in the coming weeks.

Johnson's Engineering Directorate is ready to begin testing its prototype lander as part of Project Morpheus- a vertical test bed designed to integrate technologies that could be used to build future spacecraft intended to land on the moon, Mars, asteroids or any other foreign surface.

The last time a prototype spacecraft was flown at Johnson, man hadn't yet landed on the moon. Located as it is in the middle of a busy urban area, the site isn't suitable as a launch site for the programs - such as the space shuttle and Apollo - that have called it home. But for the past 10 months, Johnson engineers have been working on Morpheus, and now they're ready to put it to the test.

"Morpheus is tangible proof that we can and are doing amazing and exciting things advancing exploration systems with a different paradigm," said Steve Altemus, director of Johnson's engineering directorate. "Over the past year, with very little funds, by leveraging our facilities and commercial partners, and most importantly by unleashing the power of our workforce, we put a functioning spacecraft together."

Though the schedule is weather dependent, the first Morpheus hot fire is set for Friday. Engineers will strap the vehicle down in a field on site, and fire the engine for 5 to 10 seconds. There will likely be a series of these tests, before the engineers move to tethered tests, in which the engine is fired while the vehicle is suspended from a crane.

The buildings closest to the tests, on- or off-site, stand about 2,000 feet away. At that distance, one can expect to hear the engine firings at a level of about 93 decibels - comparable to standing next to a lawn mower.

If all goes well, the tests will culminate with Morpheus' first free flight on May 4, as part of Johnson's Innovation Day activities. That will require the untethered vehicle to rise almost 100 feet into the air, fly 100 feet to the west and land safely. It's not an exact match for what the vehicle would be required to do on the moon or another planet or asteroid, but it allows the engineers to prove safely and cheaply that the various components of the vehicle work together as a system.

"In a lot of ways, this is what people came to NASA to do: To build things, to fly things", Project Morpheus Manager Matt Ondler said. "So it's a great opportunity to learn how to build things and fly things."

Morpheus is intended to prove two key technologies that could be used in future exploration: One, Automated Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology, would enable a lander to navigate itself around rocks, craters and other hazards, and into a safe landing space. The other is the use of liquid oxygen and methane as a propellant - these "green" fuels are cheaper and safer to use here on Earth, and could also be manufactured on the moon or even Mars.

Both technologies were being studied at Johnson well before Morpheus began to take shape, but integrating them into one vehicle allows engineers to verify that they'll work in real life, as well as in the lab.

"When you integrate all the different subsystems, you really learn a lot that you don't get from doing things individually in the lab," Ondler said. "So it's important to be able to do this testing here, to give our workforce the right hands-on opportunities to become better engineers and more capable of affordably building NASA's next vehicle."

To ensure that the free flight test could be done safely, Morpheus has two completely redundant termination systems. It would take multiple failures for the vehicle to leave its projected flight path. However, if that were to happen, the vehicle still would not be able to travel more than about 500 feet in any direction with the amount of propellant it will have, leaving some 1,500 feet between it and the nearest buildings.

Robert Pearlman
Morpheus Hot Fire Testing Overview

Behind the scenes activities at the Morpheus Hot Fire tests.
Robert Pearlman
April 14th Hot Fire Rough Cut

The Morpheus test firings from April 14th 2011.

Robert Pearlman
April 19th Hot Fire Rough Cut

The Morpheus test firings from April 19th 2011.

Robert Pearlman
Morpheus suffers crash on first free-flight

After undergoing testing at the Johnson Space Center in Houston for nearly a year, NASA's Project Morpheus lander testbed arrived at the the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 27 to begin what was planned as about three months of tests.

Today (Aug. 9), during its first untethered free-flight, the vehicle lifted off the ground and then experienced a hardware failure, preventing it from maintaining stable flight.

"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 in a statement.

No one was injured and the resulting fire was extinguished by KSC fire personnel. Engineers are looking into the incident and NASA will release information as it becomes available.

Morpheus is one of 20 small projects in the NASA Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate's Advanced Exploration Systems program. These projects pioneer approaches for rapidly developing prototype systems, demonstrating key new capabilities and validating operational concepts for future human missions beyond Earth orbit.

Robert PearlmanFollowing the loss of the vehicle in July 2012, the Project Morpheus team returned to Johnson Space Center to build and restart testing with their "Bravo" vehicle.
The vehicle may look largely the same as the previous version, but there are numerous changes that have been incorporated. We have now implemented 70 different upgrades to the vehicle and ground systems to both address potential contributors to the test failure, and also to improve operability and maintainability.
The team is now almost ready to move the "Bravo" testbed back to Kennedy Space Center, where they will again attempt free flights.

On Friday (Nov. 1), the Morpheus team performed their second to last planned test flight with the Bravo vehicle at Johnson Space Center. Later this week, they anticipate conducting a Ground Take-Off and Landing (GTAL) test prior to shipping the testbed to Florida.

Here are photos from the Nov. 1 successful tether test:

Robert PearlmanMore photos from the Nov. 1 tether test:

Robert PearlmanThe Morpheus team successfully completed Tether Test 33 with the Bravo vehicle at Kennedy Space Center on Friday (Dec. 6). This test came after a long road trip for the vehicle from Johnson Space Center in Houston to Florida.

The flight was performed primarily to verify vehicle integrity in preparation for the first free flight of the Bravo vehicle, scheduled for Tuesday (Dec. 10).

Robert PearlmanThe Morpheus Team reports today's (Dec. 10) first free flight with the Bravo vehicle was a success.
The 54-second test began with the Morpheus lander launching from the ground over a flame trench and ascending approximately 50 feet, then hovering for about 15 seconds. The lander then flew forward and landed on its pad about 23 feet from the launch point.

Project Morpheus integrates NASA's automated landing and hazard avoidance technology (ALHAT) with an engine that runs on liquid oxygen and methane into a fully operational lander that could deliver cargo to asteroids and other planetary surfaces.

Robert PearlmanProject Morpheus video release
The Morpheus Team successfully completed the first free flight of the Bravo vehicle at the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility December 10, 2013.

The vehicle flew its pre-planned trajectory flawlessly, which includes a 15m ascent, hover, a 7.5m lateral translation, and then landing within 6 inches of its intended target, for a total 54 second flight.

This test is the first in a series of free flights that will increase in altitude, distance and speed over the next few months.

Robert PearlmanProject Morpheus video release
The Morpheus Team successfully completed the second free flight of the Bravo vehicle at the Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013.

The vehicle flew its pre-planned trajectory flawlessly, landing within 3.5 inches of its intended target. Morpheus ascended from the ground over the flame trench to an altitude of about 164 feet (50m), after pausing at 82 feet (25m) to maintain the target ascent velocities.

The vehicle then flew forward, covering about 154 feet (47m) in 30 seconds, before descending and landing on a dedicated landing pad inside the ALHAT Hazard Field.

This was the team's highest and most ambitious test to date. As they continue free flights at KSC in January, they'll increase difficulty as they fly higher, farther and faster in 2014.

Robert PearlmanProject Morpheus video release
NASA's Morpheus Team successfully completed Free Flight 5 (FF5) at the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) on Jan. 16, 2014.

FF5, the third free flight of Morpheus' Bravo vehicle, was higher and faster than all previous flights. Bravo vehicle flew its pre-planned trajectory flawlessly, ascending quickly to 57 m (187 ft), traversing 47 m (154 ft) while descending, then landing about 11 inches from the intended target in the Hazard Field about a minute after launch.

Robert PearlmanProject Morpheus video release
The multi-center Morpheus Team successfully completed Free Flight 6 (FF6) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) on January 21, 2014.

FF6, the fourth free flight of the Bravo vehicle, reached 93m (305ft) altitude, then traversed 109m (358ft) in 25 seconds before landing in the Hazard Field.

Bravo flew its pre-planned trajectory flawlessly, reaching a max ascent velocity of 11.4 m/s (25.5 mph), and landing within 0.38m (15") from its intended target 64 seconds after launch.

Landing was obscured by dust, as expected, due to the Shuttle crawler-way fines covering the landing pad, but telemetry data indicated the landing and engine shutdown were nominal.

Robert PearlmanProject Morpheus video release
The multi-center Morpheus Team successfully completed Free Flight 7 (FF7) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) on Minday, February 10, 2014.

FF7, the fifth free flight of the Bravo vehicle, flew to 467 feet (142m), altitude and then traversed 637 feet (194m) in 30 seconds before landing in the hazard field.

Initial data indicated a nominal flight meeting all test objectives. The vehicle flew its pre-planned trajectory flawlessly, reaching a max ascent velocity of 13 m/s, and landing with no appreciable deviation from its intended target 74 seconds after launch.

See here for discussion of NASA's Morpheus vertical testbed vehicle.

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