NASA's robotic lander Morpheus soars in test flight

NASA's Morpheus lander lifts off on Feb. 10, 2014 at the Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida. YouTube/NASA

NASA's next robotic moon lander Morpheus successfully completed its fifth free-flight test this week.

Video of the Morpheus test flight shows the SUV-sized prototype taking off vertically on Feb. 10, 2014 at NASA Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida.

The 74-second trial run took the Morpheus lander prototype 467 feet (142 meters) above the ground, soaring more than 160 feet (48 meters) higher than its last test, according to NASA. The experimental lander then flew forward 637 feet (194 m) in 30 seconds before descending and landing on target.

"The vehicle flew its pre-planned trajectory flawlessly, reaching a max ascent velocity of 13 m/s [42 feet/s], and landing with no appreciable deviation from its intended target," NASA officials said in a video description of the test posted online.

 

The Feb. 10 flight was the latest in a round of free-flight tests that began on Dec. 10, 2013. The Morpheus project suffered a setback in August 2012, when the lander prototype crashed and exploded moments after liftoff in its first free-flight.

The Morpheus lander uses liquid oxygen and methane, or so-called green propellants. NASA officials say these fuels are safer and cheaper to use than traditional rocket propellants and can be stored in space for longer periods.

Morpheus could deliver about a 1,100-lb. (500 kilograms) payload to the moon, NASA officials say. Modifications to its landing system could even be used to help a spacecraft deliver cargo to other planetary bodies, such as an asteroid in deep space.

NASA officials said there is one more test flight planned for Morpheus before the automated landing and hazard avoidance technology (ALHAT) is installed on the vehicle. ALHAT will use lasers to scan the surface of a potential landing site for hazards, such as a dangerous boulder or crater.

Follow Megan Gannon on Twitter and Google+. Follow us@SPACEdotcomFacebook or Google+. Originally published on Space.com.

Comments

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.