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Prototype Space Lander Reaches New Heights In Latest Test Flight

posted 13 Feb 2014, 16:44 by Mpelembe   [ updated 13 Feb 2014, 16:44 ]

In its fifth free-flight test launch and descent, NASA's prototype Morpheus lander reached a height of 467 feet, 160 feet higher than its previous flight. The lander is being designed as a test bed for future space vehicles that can deliver cargo safely to asteroids or planets.

 KENNEDY SPACE CENTERFLORIDAUNITED STATES (FEBRUARY 10, 2014) (NASA) - The Morpheus prototype lander took off for its fifth free-flight test at theKennedy Space Center in Florida on Monday (February 10).

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NASA engineers say the 74-second test began around 1 p.m. EST with the vehicle launching from the ground over a flame trench and ascending at 42 feet per second to 467 feet, more than 160 feet higher than its last test.

Morpheus then flew forward, covering 637 feet in 30 seconds before descending and landing.

The craft will undergo one more test before an autonomous obstacle avoidance system is installed. Called the Autonomous Landing Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT), the system gives the craft the ability to detect and avoid obstacles such as craters and rocks on an asteroid or planet's surface.

Project Morpheus has been established to develop a landing vehicle that can deliver cargo in future exploratory missions. Its engine runs on methane and liquid oxygen, described by NASA as "green" propellants.

Engineers say it's a relatively low-cost and reusable system that will help NASA develop future vertical take-off and landing technologies for planetary exploration.