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NASA demonstrates Morpheus Lander prototype

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August 7, 2012

The Morpheus Lander just after ignition (Photo: NASA/Project Morpheus)

The Morpheus Lander just after ignition (Photo: NASA/Project Morpheus)

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While the spotlight this month has been firmly on Curiosity's rendezvous with the Red Planet, NASA has also been showcasing some of the technology we can expect to see on future missions in the form of the Morpheus Lander.

Morpheus (named after the ancient Greek god of dreams) was designed as a prototype lander that engineers can use to integrate technologies for future spacecraft with the potential to land in a variety of destinations within the solar system.

The lander has been put through testing over the past year at the Stennis Space Center and the Johnson Space Center and flew its first tether test at Kennedy Space Center on Friday August 3rd (see video below).

These new technologies include an advanced hazard detection system and a methane-based propulsion system.

The use of methane is of particular interest, as it exhibits a number of desirable features for extended space travel. Not only is it cheaper and safer to operate, but it can also be stored for longer periods of time in space than common rocket fuel and could potentially be made from ice found on the moon or Mars. There’s also a fuel source a little closer to home, with NASA experts estimating that the International Space Station produces and discards enough methane gas to fill Morpheus‘s fuel tanks every year. The propulsion system also uses liquid oxygen, a substance that can be produced from moon dust.

The Morpheus lander just before takeoff  (Photo: NASA/Project Morpheus)

Morpheus' onboard navigation and guidance system allows it to fly completely autonomously or with limited interaction from mission control. It can also detect and subsequently avoid surface hazards such as boulders using its sensor-laden Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance System (ALHAT).

Teams spent two months building a hazard field of rocks and craters at the end of the runway at the Kennedy Shuttle Landing Facility in preparation for testing this system.

Morpheus is one of the 20 projects that form NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Program, which aims to developing new systems for future human missions beyond the earth.

Source: NASA, Project Morpheus

About the Author
Chris Wood Chris recently graduated from the University of Exeter with a degree in Politics and Ancient History. Based in the U.K., he has an enthusiasm for technology of all kinds, specializing in mobile tech and games. In his spare time you might find him running, playing music, following NFL (Pats fan) or fueling his ever growing Swiss watch obsession.   All articles by Chris Wood
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4 Comments

Nice to see Armadillo Aerospace hardware being used. They have done a lot of work to advance the standardization of space hardware.

Dennis Schmalzel
7th August, 2012 @ 06:16 am PDT

Chemical energy powered rockets how quaint.

We could have manned outposts in the outer solar system if we hand not canceled Saturn and NERVA or actually developed Freeman Dyson's pulsed fission rockets. (Fission fusion would be more cost effective and is a natural outgrowth of the tech.)

Slowburn
7th August, 2012 @ 10:04 am PDT

"...estimating that the International Space Station produces and discards enough methane gas to fill Morpheus‘s fuel tanks every year."

Ahhhhg! I can't help it, first thing that popped into my head was "Space farts for fuel", set to the tune of "Earth Girls are Easy". ;)

Gregg Eshelman
7th August, 2012 @ 06:52 pm PDT

They should use the methane burning engine for keeping ISS on station.

Slowburn
8th August, 2012 @ 03:41 am PDT
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