NASA's Morpheus lander crashes, burns, explodes, burns some more


August 10, 2012

The Morpheus lander ignites after crashing (Video still: NASA)

The Morpheus lander ignites after crashing (Video still: NASA)

Image Gallery (8 images)

A free test flight of NASA's prototype Morpheus lander ended prematurely, spectacularly and in flames on Thursday when the vehicle lost stability directly after take off, crashed upside down into the dirt, before experiencing a number of explosions that left the lander in flames and apparently completely destroyed. Thankfully, no one was hurt in the incident.

The lander had undergone successful tethered testing on August 3, when, suspended from a crane, the lander completed a successful take off and landing at the Kennedy Space Center. The August 9 flight, the first without the assistance of a crane, experienced what NASA described as a "hardware component failure" which "prevented the vehicle from maintaining stable flight." In other words, it crashed. The subsequent fire appeared to result in the explosion of Morpheus' fuel tanks, and their stores of propellant which is a combination of liquid oxygen and methane. The fire crew on hand was able to extinguish the flames.

"Failures such as these were anticipated prior to the test, and are part of the development process for any complex spaceflight hardware," said NASA in a statement following the incident. Certainly, if crashes are to occur it's preferable that they occur in testing.

NASA describes the Morpheus lander as a "full spacecraft," which it hopes will one day be capable of transporting a 1100 pound (xx kg) payload such as a robot or rover to the moon. The agency additionally sees Morpheus as an opportunity to test "lean development" (presumably cost effective) engineering practices.

There is no suggestion at this stage that the incident will in any way deter NASA from the Morpheus program. A video of the crash can be seen on the NASA website.

Source: NASA

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James Holloway James lives in East London where he punctuates endless tea drinking with freelance writing and meteorological angst. Unlocking Every Extend Extra Extreme’s “Master of Extreme” achievement was the fourth proudest moment of his life. All articles by James Holloway

Looks like NASA will be writing another check out to John Carmack's Armadillo Aerospace company in the near future.

Crunch all you want, we'll make more!

Jon A.

Sice nobody was killed maybe there won't be a panic that delays the program for 2 and a half years. When Challenger was launched in out of envelope conditions and blew up the problem was not the O-rings it was the decision to launch at a temperature that the O-rings could not be expected to maintain the seal properly that was the cause. All that needed to be done was shoot the person or persons responsible for the out of envelope launch and continue the program as close to on schedule as possible when missing a vehicle.


She left out the "1" - no wonder it crashed: 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,0 ?

And exploding after catching fire isn't my idea of "The fire crew on hand was able to extinguish the flames.". Reality is probably more like - "The fire crew stayed the heck away from those exploding fuel tanks until the fire burned itself out"... we all saw the raining steel parts at the end of the video...


"Hardware Component Failure" can have several meanings that relate to Mechanical Design.

In the case of the Morpheus Lander: - The Machine wasn't properly designed for Flight Aerodynamics. - The Machine's Propulsion System Design wasn't sufficient for maintaining the desired Flight Aerodynamics. - The Machine's Design wasn't Aerodynamic; therefore, it couldn't fly properly; thus, it crashed, even with having, the correct Propulsion System Design.


re; Q-Lab

"Hardware Component Failure" means that it was not software related. Given that it flew and landed without crashing and then flew and crashed I'm guessing that something broke. During the early development of USofA cruse missiles a reusable test article crashed because shear pin sheared after several flights. Which has always begged the question "What idiot put an intentional weakness into a critical system that does not have a back up?


"Given that it flew and landed without crashing and then flew again and crashed I'm guessing that something broke." = "- The Machine wasn't properly designed for Flight Aerodynamics.".

The large Morpheus and the small Eagle aren't aerodynamic like helicopters and airplanes; therefore, they will be needing Hardware & Software to compensate for their lack of aerodynamics.

If something broke during normal non-abusive operations; then, that something wasn't properly designed for that normal non-abusive operation.

?Does that mean that the Morpheus Project should be abandoned? - No. - It means that the Engineers & Operators need to examine what happened; then, come up with a solution that fixes the issue.


If you notice in the first test, the vehicle was suspended several feet off the ground by the crane. That test sequence was successful. When they attempted the untethered flight, the vehicle was situated on the ground and the probability of the thermal feedback and high G shockwave from ignition was the culprit of the mechanical failure.

They should have set the vehicle on a tower at the height of the successful crane test. The tower would have made the difference. I do not have much confidence in the contractor for missing a detail that has been known, carefully studied and addressed in other NASA designs...

Leo Elderkin
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