Technicians check the systems on NASA's Project Morpheus prototype lander in preparation for a free-flight test from a new launch pad at the north end of the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The 98-second test began at 3:20 p.m. EDT with the Morpheus lander launching from the ground over a flame trench and ascending more than 800 feet at a peak speed of 36 mph. The vehicle, with its recently installed autonomous landing and hazard avoidance technology ALHAT sensors, surveyed the hazard field to determine safe landing sites. Morpheus then flew forward and downward covering approximately 1300 feet while performing a 78-foot divert to simulate a hazard avoidance maneuver. The lander then descended and landed on a dedicated pad inside the autonomous landing and hazard avoidance technology hazard field. Project Morpheus tests NASA’s ALHAT and an engine that runs on liquid oxygen and methane, which are green propellants. These new capabilities could be used in future efforts to deliver cargo to planetary surfaces.
The landing facility provides the lander with the kind of field necessary for realistic testing, complete with rocks, craters and hazards to avoid. Morpheus’ ALHAT payload allows it to navigate to clear landing sites amidst rocks, craters and other hazards during its descent. Project Morpheus is being managed under the Advanced Exploration Systems, or AES, Division in NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. The efforts in AES pioneer new approaches for rapidly developing prototype systems, demonstrating key capabilities and validating operational concepts for future human missions beyond Earth orbit. For more information on Project Morpheus, visit http://morpheuslander.jsc.nasa.gov/. Photo credit: NASA/Daniel Casper