NASA’s Morpheus Project has developed and tested a prototype planetary lander capable of vertical takeoff and landing. Designed to serve as a vertical testbed (VTB) for advanced spacecraft technologies, the vehicle provides a platform for bringing technologies from the laboratory into an integrated flight system at relatively low cost. This allows individual technologies to mature into capabilities that can be incorporated into human exploration missions.
Morpheus successfully completed its 8th free flight at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday, April 2. The lander, fueled by methane and oxygen, both considered “green” propellants, does not carry a crew, but is autonomously controlled and carries its own hazard avoidance system (ALHAT) to pick out safe landing spots. The craft ascended more than 800 feet before moving forward 1300 feet while its ALHAT sensors located safe sites for landing. In future flights ALHAT will take over and land Morpheus. The flight lasted about 96 seconds and continues the Johnson Space Center-based team’s steady progress through the Morpheus test flight campaign.”
NASA’s strategic goal of extending human presence across the solar system requires an integrated architecture. Such architecture would include advanced, robust space vehicles for a variety of lunar, asteroid, and planetary missions; automated hazard detection and avoidance technologies to reduce risks to crews, landers, and precursor robotic payloads; and in situ resource utilization to support crews during extended stays on extraterrestrial surfaces and to provide for their safe return to Earth. NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) portfolio includes several fast-paced projects that are developing these necessary capabilities. Specifically, the Morpheus project and the Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT) project provide technological foundations for key components of the greater exploration architecture necessary to move humans beyond low Earth orbit (LEO).