Monday, February 11, 2013

Morpheus and ALHAT teams, still hard at work

The Project Morpheus team has been hard at work preparing for this year’s series of tests and building the new Morpheus 1.5B and 1.5C vehicles.  "We have been busy assembling the vehicle structures, wiring in all of our sensors, running integrated tests, continuing engine firings at Stennis Space Center, and more."

Before and after the catastrophic loss of what had been the primary unmanned Morpheus lander test platform, testing the next generation (and the generation after) fueling, hazard avoidance and guidance technologies at the Johnson and Kennedy Space centers. Built by Armadillo Aerospace with the aim of developing a cutting edge vehicle for soft-landing 500 kg on the Moon, this platform was lost following failure of a real-time Inertia Measurement Unit (IMU) last August.
The Morpheus and ALHAT teams are now a combined team, which enables a more integrated series of tests as we prepare for future flight tests.  One of these integrated tests took place at Kennedy Space Center in December.  We used a Langley Research Center Huey helicopter as a stand-in for Morpheus.  We mounted the ALHAT sensors under the belly of the helicopter pointed in the direction of the helicopter motion.  Other components such as sensor electronics, Morpheus flight computer, real-time communications equipment and support hardware were placed in the passenger/cargo area.  This allowed both onboard and ground support teams to monitor progress in real-time.  The helicopter was  flown repeatedly on Morpheus-type trajectories towards the hazard field.

Read the report HERE.

Moving Forward, Not Starting Over

"A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for."
-John Augustus Shedd

On Thursday we made our second free flight attempt with the Morpheus prototype vehicle.  As you can see in the video below, shortly after liftoff we experienced a hardware failure and lost the vehicle.  The root cause is still under investigation,  but what we do know is that at the start of  ascent we lost data from the Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) that supplies navigation updates to the flight computer.  Without this measurement the vehicle is blind and does not know which way it is pointing or accelerating.  Since this data is needed to maintain stable flight, the vehicle could not determine which way was up and began to tumble and  impacted the ground about 50 feet from the launch site.  No one was injured, no property was damaged besides the vehicle and we have been able to recover significant data, which will give us greater insight into the source of the problem.

We have said it before and will continue to say, this is why we test.  We have already learned a lot from this test and will continue to learn as we recover data and evaluate the hardware.   No test article should be too precious to lose.  A spare vehicle was planned from the start and is just a few months away from completion.  The basic development approach is to quickly build, test and redesign the hardware to achieve many design cycles and maturity before building flight articles.

Read the report HERE.

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