NASA's 'green' planetary test lander crashes

Aug 09, 2012 by SETH BORENSTEIN
NASA handout image shows the Morpheus lander (C) being fueled at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The experimental Moon lander crashed and burst into flames seconds after takeoff due to a hardware fault, the US space agency said, prompting an investigation but no casualties.

Earlier this week NASA safely landed a robotic rover on Mars 350 million miles (563 million kilometers) away. But on Thursday here on Earth, a test model planetary lander crashed and burned at Kennedy Space Center in the state of Florida just seconds after liftoff.

The spider-like $7 million spacecraft called Morpheus was on a test flight at Cape Canaveral when it tilted, crashed to the ground and erupted in flames.

NASA spokeswoman Lisa Malone said it appears that the methane-and-liquid oxygen powered lander is a total loss. Nobody was hurt in the unmanned experiment and the flames were put out, she said.

In a statement, NASA said it was probably more a mechanical failure than some type of control issue.

Morpheus is a prototype for a cheap, environmentally friendly planetary lander. Thursday was the first time it had been tested untethered in a free flight. It had performed about 20 flights at Johnson Space Center in Houston, where it was designed and made, but it was always tethered to a crane, NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries said.

The testing moved from Texas to Florida last week and Morpheus had a successful tether test on Friday. NASA had planned to run tests for three months. The plan was for flights over a specially created field designed to mimic the surface of the moon, with boulders, rocks, slopes and craters.

The lander was built mostly with low-cost, off-the-shelf materials. It was an attempt by NASA to use cheaper, more readily available and environmentally friendly rocket fuel. The space agency was considering it as a potential lander for places like the moon or an asteroid, figuring it would carry a human-like robot or small rover.

NASA promoted Morpheus as a "green" project because methane is more environmentally friendly than the toxic rocket fuels it uses. Methane, which is the main component of natural gas, is also cheaper and could even be made from ice on the moon or Mars, NASA figured.

Morpheus was early in the NASA experimental "test bed" process and the space agency had not committed to using the lander in any specific flight, Humphries said.

Explore further: Red moon at night; stargazer's delight

More information: Project Morpheus: morpheuslander.jsc.nasa.gov/

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User comments : 15

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Modernmystic
1 / 5 (2) Aug 09, 2012
Still trying to use the cheaper foam?
that_guy
5 / 5 (3) Aug 09, 2012
It's ok to lose this one, just as long as the final version can safely deliver the important cargo.
Osiris1
not rated yet Aug 09, 2012
Make republicans fly it, THEN it will be made safer, and all the 'cheap' will go out the window.
retrosurf
5 / 5 (5) Aug 10, 2012
7 Million? Is that all?
Afghanistan is 10 million *an hour*.

Can I trade an entire hour of Afghanistan hubris for a CH4/LOX lander, made of COTS parts, perfect for a gas giant?

I'll take two, please. They're small

Birger
5 / 5 (1) Aug 10, 2012
I agree with retrosurf, the unnecessary wars have eaten funding that could have launched a manned Mars mission by now.
And the demonstration of "can do" spirit in space is infinitely more inspiring than avoiding some IEDs in a desert.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (5) Aug 10, 2012
And the demonstration of "can do" spirit in space is infinitely more inspiring than avoiding some IEDs in a desert.

But "can't do" in the desert makes money - lots of money (for some: defense contractors, military industrial complex, politicians riding to office on jingoism, bankers, stock market brokers, ... )

Until you can compete with that with a Mars mission we'll see more wars and less science.
Kafpauzo
5 / 5 (1) Aug 10, 2012
The space agency was considering it as a potential lander for places like the moon or an asteroid,


The article makes it sound as if this crash were a major showstopper, and as if the project were now a thing of the past.

That must be a misunderstanding. You can't develop flight hardware without taking risks. Crashes will happen sometimes. You don't scrap a promising project just because of a crash. Although obviously you'd prefer your prototypes not to crash, crashes are almost expected. You explore the reasons for the crash, build a new prototype, and proceed with the project.

And the next prototype will cost far less, since the R&D for the previous prototype is already done.
GSwift7
5 / 5 (3) Aug 10, 2012
And the next prototype will cost far less, since the R&D for the previous prototype is already done


Yes, especially since the 7 million includes stuff that wasn't actually on board the lander, such as the fuel trucks shown in the above photo, as well as remote control hardware and computer software.

One point of annoyance though. It certainly sounds great to use the phrase "environmentally friendly", but on an asteroid or the moon? There's no atmosphere to contaminate there, there's no life to harm, and those places are naturally so toxic that our normal rocket fuel exhaust might be an improvement over what is there already.
GSwift7
5 / 5 (1) Aug 10, 2012
But "can't do" in the desert makes money - lots of money (for some: defense contractors, military industrial complex, politicians riding to office on jingoism


Those people make money on space missions too. It's largely the same people who get the subcontracts either way.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Aug 11, 2012
Those people make money on space missions too. It's largely the same people who get the subcontracts either way.

A Mars lander isn't worth the effort to these kinds of subcontractors. It's way too little money for a one-off development. Consider that the entire Curiosity mission costs less than half of a single B2 bomber. I.e. the ENTIRE mission - including all costs - is less money than the PROFIT made off of one bomber. That's not very attractive.

Science missions are also over once the thing is built (for the subcontractors). Wars, if you do them 'correctly', can go on and on and on - assuring steady demand for your product.

Best are 'potential wars' (read 'homeland security'). Then you can basically sell infinte military hardware that doesn't even have to work because it never needs to perform.
gopher65
not rated yet Aug 11, 2012
antialias_physorg: The funny thing is, military spending is really bad for the economy compared to basically any other type of spending. The two best ways to create jobs, create long term economic growth, and stuff contractor's pockets? Infrastructure construction and basic science spending.

Over the long haul governments actually get a significant return on investment on both. They actually *make more money than they spend*. It boggles my mind that governments aren't falling all over themselves to spend on both infrastructure and basic science. It would be good for them.

I think that they just don't understand. They think that the military is a jobs program, when it actually destroys many, many more jobs than it creates. If they could somehow be shown the facts (and they believed them), I firmly believe that their own self interest would lead them to change their spending habits.
gopher65
not rated yet Aug 11, 2012
(As an aside, the reason a standing army hurts the economy in peacetime is twofold:

1) You're paying people to stand around with guns in their hands instead of paying them to work in factors, build bridges, or to design iPhones, or anything else that creates economic growth.

2) Most of the military equipment that gets created doesn't get used to its full potential before being dumped into the ocean or otherwise decommissioned. Even when it *is* "used up", it isn't used to create economic activity, unlike a truck, or a car, or even a cell phone. It's like we're spending 1.2 trillion per year on Xboxs and playstations. Useless (that's the estimated 2010 DoD expenditure once long term R&D and equipment replacement were factored it. That's likely accurate today too, since equipment lost in Iraq is still being replaced. It doesn't include vets). Things like these create little economic activity beyond their initial manufacture, while simultaneously leading to a huge loss of productivity.)
E-dward
not rated yet Aug 11, 2012
I don't have any idea how this craft is controlled , but it should
be adapted from Amar Bose's computerized suspension system, done after more than 20 years of research. It could use accelerometers to control the output of each rocket , and keep it stable .
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Aug 11, 2012
It boggles my mind that governments aren't falling all over themselves to spend on both infrastructure and basic science. It would be good for them.

It doesn't boggle the mind so much once you accept that government is not for the good of the people but is just a tool by the military complex to keep money flowing from the wage slaves to their masters.
Seen in that light their decisions make perfect sense.
GSwift7
not rated yet Aug 13, 2012
It doesn't boggle the mind so much once you accept that government is not for the good of the people but is just a tool by the military complex blah blah blah blah...


write that down, then take it and read it to someone you know in real life. Tell them that someone else wrote it, and see what their reaction is. I'll bet you won't do that, because you know better than to say stuff like that around people who know you in real life. That's because you know that's just crazy nonsense. What does that even mean? Stop wasting eletrons.

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