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Raumfahrt - NASA´s MORPHEUS Lander Free-flight + night flight tonight

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15.06.2013

HOUSTON — The development team for NASA’s Morpheus prototype precision planetary lander is prepping for a late July return to Kennedy Space Center, where engineers plan to resume the free-flight test campaign that was abruptly suspended last August with a fiery crash of the test vehicle.

The liquid oxygen/methane-fueled replacement test vehicle and launch pad are being substantially enhanced with the addition of redundant inertial measurement units (IMUs) and a flame trench to address the loss of guidance data and a buildup of destructive vibro-acoustic forces identified as the most likely cause of the Aug. 9, 2012, crash.

If this summer’s three-month campaign achieves all of its goals, Morpheus will close out a graduated series of test objectives at Kennedy by rising 500 meters above a simulated lunarscape at the north end of Kennedy’s Shuttle Landing Facility. Morpheus would then fly a 1-km trajectory using laser guidance supplied by its equally experimental Autonomous Landing Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT) system to dodge a network of boulders and craters to achieve a soft landing.

“Testing so far here has been going really well,” said Jon Olansen, who manages Morpheus from NASA’s Johnson Space Center, in a June 12 interview. “If that continues, then by the end of July we should be back at KSC.”

Evaluations of the second Morpheus lander at Johnson, where development is limited to static or tethered test flights, began in April 2011 as part of a NASA initiative to develop an autonomous, multi-purpose lander/testbed for a range of planetary mission assignments and deep-space technology demonstrations. Morpheus might contribute to the testing of Orion/Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle guidance systems; deliveries of robotic hardware to the surface of an asteroid, Mars or the Moon; or perhaps transporting an in-situ resource utilization plant to the lunar surface for oxygen production.

The lander’s use of non-toxic methane could prove attractive to mission planners beyond the comparative ease of ground handling. Methane could prove favorable as a storable in-space propellant, especially to those who advocate a network of space fuel depots. Unlike liquid hydrogen and oxygen, methane would not require extensive thermal conditioning.

During a May 29 test firing at Johnson while suspended from a crane by a tether, Morpheus demonstrated the simultaneous combustion of LOX/methane in the main engine as well as its reaction control system (RCS), another new feature.

“That is the first time we know of that anyone carried out an integrated main engine/RCS test using LOX/methane,” Olansen said. “That was a nice step forward.”

The methane-fueled RCS addition is one of 70 upgrades to the second test vehicle following the crash.

In the 2012 mishap, the lander lost IMU data less than a second after lifting off on an early unrestrained flight test at Kennedy. It crashed 8 sec. later. The single IMU had flown on 27 previous test flights without an issue. Though much of the vehicle was destroyed, making the forensics difficult, the project team reached a consensus on the most likely cause: destructive vibro-acoustics from the main engine at ignition.

Morpheus is now equipped with four IMUs, and all of the devices have been moved outboard from the previous location at the center of the lander. Two are designed for functional redundancy. The others will be flown as data-generating developmental hardware.

At Johnson, a flame trench was added at the test site before post-crash static and tethered firings resumed with the replacement lander in April. Meanwhile, the Morpheus project is assembling a third flight-test vehicle.

Quelle: Aviation Week

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Update: 11.12.2013

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Prototype Morpheus lander completes test flight at KSC

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Bravo, Morpheus!
Sixteen months after making national news with a test flight that crashed and burned at Kennedy Space Center, NASA’s Morpheus lander completed a successful do-over Tuesday.
Flying for the first time without a tether, the new-and-improved “Bravo” version of the prototype lander soared 50 feet up, hovered and then touched down about 20 feet from where it lifted off near the former shuttle runway, within six inches of its target.
There were no pyrotechnics other than a few easily extinguished grass fires.
“It feels fantastic,” said Jon Olansen, the project manager from Johnson Space Center, said of the nearly one-minute flight. “We knew this vehicle could fly very well.”
In August 2012, the original Morpheus lost navigation data a split-second after liftoff on its first free flight, causing it to keel over and explode on impact near the same site.
Video of the crash went viral, but NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden later cited the mishap as a positive example of the agency taking risks and pushing boundaries, as perhaps it should more often.
The $750,000 Bravo replacement vehicle looks essentially the same as the first one, with four spindly legs and four large silver balls for propellant tanks, but features about 70 upgrades to improve components and redundancy in some systems.
The improvements didn’t break the bank, however, because the project is aiming for rapid technology development at relatively low cost, and thus accepts more risk.
“There are still many different things that could lead to loss of the vehicle,” Olansen said.
Project Morpheus has spent about $10 million over more than three years, not including team salaries, Olansen said.
Its goal is to test a system powered by liquid oxygen and liquid methane, which are known as “green” propellants, and equipped with autonomous landing sensors.
A series of test flights, continuing next week, will attempt to gradually increase the lander’s altitude and lateral range, to a peak of 820 feet up and about 1,600 feet over.
The landing sensors are expected to enter the picture in February or March, challenging Morpheus to find a safe landing site in a boulder- and crater-strewn hazard field resembling a lunar landscape.
The sensors should allow Morpheus to change landing targets in mid-flight if they see an obstacle at the first location.
KSC built the nearly 1,000-square-foot hazard field, and designed a new mobile launch pad with a flame trench that was used on Tuesday and limited noise vibrations on the lander as it lifted off.
“Today was a great, nominal test,” said Greg Gaddis, the project's site manager at KSC.
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On Dec. 6 at Kennedy Space Center, the Project Morpheus prototype lander is being prepared for a tethered test on a transportable launch platform positioned at the north end of the Shuttle Landing Facility. Credit: NASA/Daniel Casper
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Quelle: Florida-Today
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Frams: NASA-Video:
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Update: 13.12.2013
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Space lander of the future takes fiery flight

 

Untethered and, more importantly, not exploding this time around, NASA's Morpheus lander roared into life and climbed 15 metres above a launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Tuesday.

 

Designed to be a test bed for future lunar, asteroid and planetary cargo lander designs, the liquid oxygen and methane-powered spacecraft then hovered and nudged itself sideways before landing 7.5 metres from where it took off – missing a target by just 15 centimetres.

 

This success is a far cry from 9 August 2012, when an earlier model crashed and burned on its first free flight test. That fate can be a regular problem for such landers: back in 1968 Neil Armstrong narrowly escaped death when his lunar module test bed went similarly awry. He ejected just in time.
Quelle:NewScientist
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Quelle: NASA

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Update: 25.12.2013

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Morpheus Rising: NASA's Prototype Lander Vehicle Soars in Recent Free-Flight Tests / Free Flight 4

A week later, on Dec. 17, Morpheus followed on with its second free-flight, which saw the vehicle rise 164 feet (50m) above the ground. Having tripled the altitude that had been achieved during the previous flight, the vehicle went on to fly forward covering a distance of 154 feet (47m), prior to conducting a vertical landing right on target at its predetermined landing spot, closing its 80-second highly successful second flight. It should be noted that the on-the-spot landing was pre-programmed and carried out by the lander without benefiting from the use of the hazard-avoidance ALHAT technology at all.The VTVL technology used on Morpheus isn’t something new, with the infamous Apollo Lunar Modules being the first planetary landers to utilise it. ALHAT, on the other hand, comprises a new set of innovative technologies that would allow a future planetary lander to autonomously identify its landing area by creating 3-D maps of the surface on the fly, while being able to navigate and avoid hazardous terrain, ensuring a safe landing for future cargo and crew missions. The work being done with the Morpheus Lander could lead to the development of planetary landers that would be able to reach many places previously thought as inaccessible, like the Moon’s polar regions or deep craters on Mars. Morpheus’ recent successful flights are a positive sign for a developing capability that could make future missions to those places a reality.

Besides its advanced autonomous navigation and landing technologies, Morpheus utilises other innovative approaches as well. Its propellant is a mixture of “green,” non-toxic liquid oxygen/ liquid methane fuel, stored inside its four spherical propellant tanks. Future missions to the Moon and Mars could potentially produce these elements through in-situ resource utilisation, thus largely mitigating the need of carrying all the needed fuel with them from Earth. Though the current Morpheus prototype vehicle is relatively small, having a payload capacity of 500 kg, the Morpheus team hopes to scale it up in the future to be able to accommodate both crew and cargo. “This technology is scalable,” Olansen said during an earlier tethered flight test in June. “Starting with a small mission, we could scale all the way up to flying a habitat with a crew. And it’s this human bent we’re really pushing for.”

In addition to the various technical innovations, Project Morpheus is also exhibiting some financial ones as well. The whole development costs since the Project started in 2010 have been kept below $10 million, with the cost of the replacement vehicle that conducted the recent successful tests being in the order of $750,000. The Project is also an example of inter-agency collaboration within NASA, with six of the space agency’s 10 centers being involved. As stated in the Project’s Facebook page, “Although Morpheus was designed and developed primarily at Johnson Space Center (JSC), other NASA centers, commercial entities, and academic institutions have supported its development and testing. For Morpheus and ALHAT, JSC has partnerships with Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for flight-testing; Stennis Space Center (SSC) for engine testing; Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) for engine development and lander expertise; Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) for core flight software development; and Langley Research Center (LaRC) and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for ALHAT development. Commercial partnerships with enterprises such as Jacobs Engineering, Armadillo Aerospace, Draper Labs, and others have augmented the development and operation of many aspects of the project.”

The team behind the Project plans on conducting more flee flights during 2014, further testing the vehicle’s autonomous navigation and hazard-avoidance capabilities. Aptly named after the ancient Greek god of dreams, the Morpheus Lander has the potential to make the dream of reusable planetary landers a reality.

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A composite photo showing the various stages of Morpheus’ second successful free-flight test on Dec. 17 and the fourth overall for the Project. Image Credit: NASA/Johnson Space Center

Update: 14.01.2014

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NASA Invites Media to View the Morpheus Lander at Kennedy

 

News media representatives are invited to view NASA’s Morpheus lander at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 10 a.m. EST Friday, Jan. 17. Morpheus arrived at Kennedy in November 2013 for a series of flight tests scheduled to occur through April 2014.

 

Morpheus is a prototype lander engineers can use to incorporate technologies for future spacecraft that could land on a variety of destinations in our solar system. The project integrates NASA’s automated landing and hazard avoidance technology, or ALHAT, with an engine that runs on liquid oxygen and methane, or “green” propellants, into a fully operational lander that could deliver cargo to asteroids and other planetary surfaces.

 

During the event, members of the media will tour the Morpheus hangar, command and control center, and the ALHAT hazard field designed to provide the lander with the type of terrain it may encounter during a touchdown at its destination, including rocks and craters. NASA officials from the Morpheus Project office based at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, along with Kennedy project personnel, will be available for interviews.

 

Media should arrive at Kennedy’s Press Site by 9 a.m. for transportation to the event. U.S. media without Kennedy accreditation must apply for credentials by noon, Thursday, Jan. 16.  International media accreditation for this event is closed.
Quelle: NASA

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Update: 17.01.2014 

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NASA's Morpheus lander takes test flight at KSC

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NASA’s Morpheus lander today completed its third test flight at Kennedy Space Center.
The prototype lander developed by the Johnson Space Center lifted off around 1:15 p.m. from a pad at the north end of the former shuttle runway and flew for 57 seconds.
Powered by liquid oxygen and liquid methane, the vehicle climbed to about 187 feet, nearly doubling its ascent speed from the previous test last year.
Then it flew forward about 154 feet and descend to another pad, landing within 11 inches of its target.
A continuing series of flight tests will add sensors designed to detect and navigate around rocks and craters in a hazard field resembling a lunar landscape.

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Frams: Morpheus test flight: Prototype Morpheus lander takes test flight above Kennedy Space Center. NASA video. Posted Jan. 16, 2014.
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Quelle: NASA, Florida Today

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Update: 21.01.2014 

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NASA's Morpheus lander set for fourth liftoff today

Prototype to land in 'hazard field' north of shuttle runway

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CAPE CANAVERAL — A moon-inspired field of dreams beckons NASA’s Morpheus lander at Kennedy Space Center.
Named for the Greek god of dreams, the prototype lander plans to lift off for a fourth time today at KSC and descend into the “hazard field” strewn with boulders and craters north of the former shuttle runway.
It’s as close as the four-legged vehicle defined by four silver, spherical propellant tanks will ever get to another celestial surface, but hints at the possibilities its “green” propulsion system and advanced landing sensors hold.
Jon Olansen, the project’s leader from Johnson Space Center, said seeing Morpheus touch down in the simulated lunar landscape conjures an “otherworldly” sensation.
“It does give you that sense that we are making progress in things that will allow us to eventually set foot on other planets,” he said.
The KSC flights are an early step toward that goal, testing technologies that could prove useful to robotic or human exploration.
The initial focus is a rocket engine powered by liquid methane and liquid oxygen.
The non-toxic, or “green,” propellants could land or move a Morpheus-like vehicle on the moon, an asteroid or Mars. Methane fuel, which is easier to store in space than hydrogen, could also contribute to power and life-support systems.
Later, Morpheus will demonstrate a sensor package that can scan the ground below in any lighting conditions, rank the best available landing sites and change course if the targeted site looks dangerous.
Such a precision landing capability “opens up a lot of areas of scientific interest that currently we cannot approach, just because of the hazards that exist there,” said Olansen.
Morpheus must prove its flight-worthiness over several more tests before adding the sensors known as ALHAT, for Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology, which are worth more than the vehicle itself.
Having spent about $13 million over four years, not counting the cost of a 40-person civil servant team, Morpheus is considered a “lean” development project that limits costs by accepting more risks.
That reality was on full display during the project’s first visit to KSC in August 2012. If Morpheus inspired dreams then, they were nightmares.
Seconds after lifting off on its first free flight, Morpheus lost navigation data, pitched over and crashed with an explosion that made national news.
To the engineers, it was an unfortunate, but still useful, experience.
“There are good tests and there are good tests,” Olansen said. “We learned a lot from that.”
A replacement vehicle, Morpheus “Bravo,” was built for $750,000 and includes more than 70 upgrades, including to the ground systems prepared by KSC personnel.
Morpheus now lifts off over a flame trench embedded in its mobile launch pad, to reduce noise vibrations believed to have contributed to the 2012 failure.
At 1:15 p.m. today, Morpheus will attempt to climb 305 feet, fly down range 350 feet and descend to a concrete landing pad inside the hazard field, doubling its peak speed from the previous test.
Measuring about 10 feet tall and 10 feet wide, Morpheus and its blue exhaust plume likely won’t be visible from a distance, but the tests are streamed live online.
Memories of the crash add tension to the flights lasting less than 2 minutes.
Three successful flights since December have built confidence, but the Bravo vehicle still has numerous systems for which a single failure could result in more pyrotechnics.
“There is a potential every time we fly that we have a problem,” said Olansen. “That keeps the cost down. But because of that, there is a little bit of anxiety, I guess, as we go fly.”
Morpheus flies itself. Once it is off the ground, engineers in a control center at the base of the shuttle runway’s tower can only watch, or order an abort if necessary for safety reasons.
After today, the launch pad will be moved farther away for two flights, then moved again for the final series of four tests with the landing sensors installed. Those are planned in March and April.
By the end, Morpheus will hover above the hazard field composed of recycled river rock from the shuttle crawlerway and busted up chunks of concrete.
The sensors will scan 311 rock piles, 24 craters and two steep slopes — arranged to mimic an actual section of the moon — then override a programmed landing site and guide Morpheus to a pad hidden by fine river rock particles.
If the tests are successful, future missions may incorporate the new technologies, but the Morpheus project’s future is undetermined.
The low-budget tests are a small diversion from KSC’s primary responsibility to prepare for a test launch of NASA’s massive new human exploration rocket, possibly in 2017.
But they recall the type of operations for which the center once prided itself. Since the last shuttle mission in 2011, Morpheus is the only NASA vehicle to rocket from KSC and land there.
Gregory Gaddis, KSC site manager for the Morpheus tests, said center director Bob Cabana and others were “excited about having smoke and fire back at Kennedy Space Center.”

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Quelle: Florida Today

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Update: 11.02.2014 

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Morpheus absolviert erfolgreich weiteren freien Flug 7

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Project Morpheus – an experimental lander project – has enjoyed a successful free flight at its test range at the end of the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) on Monday. Previously delayed by poor weather at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) – along with technical issues – Monday’s free flight achieved another milestone for the technology demostrator that may be adopted by future commercial lunar landers.

 

Morpheus Rises:

 

Manufactured and assembled at JSC and Armadillo Aerospace, the Morpheus system is large enough to carry 1,100 pounds of cargo to the moon.
This cargo capability includes the ability to transport a humanoid robot, a small rover, or even a small laboratory to convert moon dust into oxygen.
Morpheus is designed as a full spacecraft system, with all the associated subsystems: avionics; software; guidance, navigation and control; power; power distribution; structures; propulsion; and instrumentation.
By NASA standards, the project is run via minimal funding, with a small team of around 30 people.
It was heavily associated with a project to send a version of the Robonaut – like the one currently on the International Space Station (ISS) -  to the Moon. This was known as Project M (documentation available in L2).
This notional mission would see the robot and lander launched from KSC on a commercial expendable launch vehicle and inserted into a trans-lunar trajectory.
Once at the moon, the spacecraft would be inserted into a low lunar orbit where it would orbit until ready to perform the entry, descent, and landing (EDL).
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The focus of the project is now aimed more at Morpheus being a vertical test bed demonstrating green propellant propulsion systems and autonomous landing and hazard detection technology.
The system is a prototype lander engineers can use to integrate technologies for future spacecraft that could land on a variety of destinations in our solar system.
Working on the fine-tuning of the vehicle’s control and stability, 19 tethered tests were conducted on Morpheus through to 2012 at JSC.
Morpheus then made its way to the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) at KSC, ahead of attempting its first free flight over a specially constructed hazard field of craters and rocks at the end of the runway.
However, the test – conducted in August of last year – did not go to plan, as the vehicle’s Thrust Vector Control (TVC) system suffer a major malfunction, sending it into a roll, prior to crashing into the ground.
Although SLF fire crews were on hand, the pressurized system could not be approached as it laid crippled on the site.
Eventually, the fire breached the pressurized fuel tanks, resulting in it exploding.
The Morpheus team, now combined with the Autonomous Landing Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT) team members, were then directed to build the Morpheus 1.5B and 1.5C vehicles, ahead of a return to static hot fire and dynamic tethered flight tests at JSC in early 2013.
At the end of October, the lander’s engine was successfully ignited six times in a row, with each burn lasted 600 milliseconds.
This period of testing was challenging, resulting in the test schedule at KSC to be delayed several times.
In November, the vehicle was transported to the T-Shelter at the Kennedy Space Center, in preparation for a series of free flight tests.
All KSC testing has been conducted without incident during its second visit to Florida.
Monday’s test was known as Free Flight 7, successfully increasing the distance the vehicle rose to, with 465 feet the altitude for this latest test, with a translation across the ground of 630 or so feet.
In preparation for the test – and the associated risks – KSC staff were told surrounding areas will be restricted.
“Due to the untethered test flight of the Morpheus vehicle on 10 Feb, temporary road closures of up to 30 minutes should be expected at the following locations from 1200-1630 hours,” noted the release.
“State Road 402 (Beach Road) & Kennedy Parkway (Wilson’s Corner):  No southbound or westbound traffic will be allowed. State Road 402 (Beach Road), east of Oak Hammock:  No eastbound traffic will be allowed. Kennedy Parkway, just north of the C-Band RADAR site (Bldg. J6-407):  No northbound traffic will be allowed.”
Morpheus has mutliple safety controls including onboard soft abort systems and a wireless Flight Termination System.
In the end, the test, which began just after 18:00 UTC, was a success, with only a small fire caused on the field, which was no threat to the vehicle.
Should the remainder of free flights work as planned, the next stage will be to install a sensor package designed to detect and avoid hazards on the ground.
The hazard area had already been constructed at the end of the SLF, resembling a mini lunar surface area. These tests area currently expected to take place in March and April of this year.
Providing the test series is a success, Morpheus could then directly contribute to numerous technology goals.
The project has been openly promoted to commercial companies interested in future lunar landings, such as Golden Spike.
Quelle: NASASPACEFLIGHT

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Update: 25.04.2014 

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Morpheus lander test flight a success

Score another success for NASA's Morpheus lander.
Today's test flight from Kennedy Space Center appeared to have gone off without any problems.
This time the goal was a 98-second flight climbing about 803 feet and flying downrange 1,333 feet, with a pre-planned maneuver to change its trajectory.
"SUCCESS! Morpheus has landed," NASA tweeted.
The four-legged vehicle, a Johnson Space Center-led technology development project, has had a string of successful test flights.
Quelle: Florida Today

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Update: 4.05.2014

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A Typical Morpheus Test Day

 

by Morpheus Ops Lean, Ian Young (@ICYprop)

Hey Morpheus fans! In this write-up I’ll take you through a test day in a fair amount of detail. Most of you only get insight into the last 20 or so minutes when our Ustream feed goes live. Hopefully you’ll enjoy this behind the scenes look into all the hard work the team puts in to make each flight happen.
Overview
As you probably expect test day is a busy day with many tasks to accomplish to get to ignition. The overall day can be broken up into several different sections, each of which I’ll go over in more detail below. The different portions of the day are Safety Brief & Vehicle Rollout, Pre-Fill Checkout, Propellant Load (Liquid Oxygen and Liquid Methane), Leak Check, Final Preparation, Flight, and Post Test. A typical test day is about 10 hours from roll-out until Morpheus is back in the hangar. There are two teams working in tandem to get Morpheus ready for flight, the Pad Crew and Control Center. The Pad Crew is out at the pad and performs all the physical tasks needed to get ready for the test; this includes flipping switches and hooking up hoses. The Control Center operators monitor telemetry and send commands to Morpheus. (For more details on the various positions see the previous blog post)
Safety Brief & Rollout
The test day begins with the entire team meeting at Morpheus’ hangar, where our PM goes over the plan for the day. The briefing starts by covering hazard and safety topics applicable for that day’s test, such as cryogenics, pressure vessels, and laser firings. It’s vitally important that in a contingency the entire team knows what actions need to be taken. After the safety brief is covered each discipline reviews changes or items of note for their subsystem, including giving their concurrence they are ready for flight. At this point the team is ready to get the test day underway.
The pad crew finalizes Morpheus for transport from the hangar to the pad area. Morpheus must then be transported from the south end of the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) to the north end. The 3 mile trek takes about 20 minutes to ensure Morpheus isn’t jostled too much on the ride.
While Morpheus is on the way to the pad, the control team heads to the SLF air traffic tower where the control center is located. Here the operators begin configuring their consoles for the test day.
Once Morpheus arrives at the pad it is lifted off the cart by a crane and placed on launch stands. The three launch stands align with three load cells on Morpheus that allows the team to monitor the weight and center of gravity (c.g.) up until the moment of ignition. The launch stands fall away as Morpheus lifts off. Once on the launch stands, the pad crew then begins positioning all the ground equipment required to get Morpheus ready for flight, items such as grounding straps, propellant tankers, and ground power. When both the pad crew and control center teams are ready, the team powers on Morpheus’ avionics and moves on to system checkouts.
Pre-Fill Checkout
Prior to loading propellants all of Morpheus’ systems are checked out. This allows the team to work any issue that may come up before the cryogenic propellants are onboard. Most of the day Morpheus is powered by a ground power cart to preserve the onboard flight batteries. Once powered up the vehicle is precisely leveled on the launch stands using the onboard Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU). Being level helps ensure that when propellant is loaded it will settle out evenly between the two tanks.
Once level a process known as ‘Gyrocomping’ is kicked off. The gyrocomp initializes the accelerometers inside the IMU and must be performed any time the IMU is powered on. The process is about 3 minutes and internal to the IMU. During this time the vehicle must be as still as possible as the gyrocomp uses the sensed rotation of the Earth as part of its process.
After gyrocomp we checkout all the mechanical valves and actuators to ensure proper function. First, we test out the helium disconnect mechanism. Helium is used to pressurize the tanks to their flight pressure. A remote system is needed because the high tank pressures means the pad crew must be at least 1250 feet away. After a successful disconnect checkout we check all the other valves (which include vent valves, cooling valves, and engine valves) on Morpheus. This is a total of 16 valves.  We then move on to the actuator check. For this portion we put Morpheus on to flight batteries to ensure they can handle the power draw required to drive the actuators simultaneously. There are three elctro-magnetic actuators (EMA’s) on Morpheus; one drives the throttle and the other two gimbal the engine. With those checks complete we command each of the four RCS jets valves open and to spark. Finally, we conclude this portion of checkouts with checking the main engine spark.
In parallel with the actuator checks we checkout two of the three ALHAT sensors, the Doppler Lidar and Laser Altimeter. These two sensors don’t give very useful data until we’re moving, so at this point we are mainly looking to ensure they booted up properly and that the temperatures are all nominal. When the actuator and ALHAT checkouts are complete we go back on to the ground battery cart.
To complete the functional checkouts we test the remaining ALHAT sensor, the Hazard Detection System (HDS), and the Thrust Termination System (TTS). The TTS’s main function is to independently shutdown the main engine should the need arise. The TTS accomplishes this by shutting a valve on each of the propellant feed systems to the main engine. The TTS also has a function to stop the HDS laser from firing, thus providing an independent method to safe that part of the vehicle as well. The HDS system uses a laser that is not eye safe so extra precautions are taken by the team to ensure safety. With the HDS system powered, the full functionality of the TTS system is checked by verifying that it will also stop the HDS laser from firing.  The HDS is then pointed at two different targets to verify pointing accuracy of the system. Precisely pointing the HDS system is a key requirement for the ALHAT flights.
At the successful conclusion of the functional checkouts the team prepares to begin loading propellants on to Morpheus.
Propellant Load
At this point the team is ready to load the Liquid Oxygen (LOX) and Liquid Methane (LCH4) on to Morpheus. Generally, we load LOX first but can, and have, loaded Methane first. During loading we fill to fairly precise quantities. Of course we don’t want to run out of propellant during a flight, but we also don’t want to overfill too much. Any propellant that we aren’t planning to burn is simply dead weight that we have to carry with us. So you can see it’s a fine balancing act. This is where it’s very handy to have Morpheus resting on the three load cells; their weight readings are our best gas gauge.
Because the propellants are cryogenic, they will continue to boil off throughout the day and this must be accounted for by the Prop officer when setting the loading targets. When the propellants are first put into the tanks they boil off at a very high rate because the tanks are at ambient air temperature. Once the tanks chill down the boil off rate is very predictable. To help avoid some uncertainty, after the rapid boil off is finished we top the tanks back off to the target load. Once both propellants are loaded the team is really on the clock. If too much propellant is allowed to boiloff there won’t be enough left to perform the day’s test.
Leak Check
The final checkout that can only be performed once propellant is on board is a leak check. With cryogenic propellants on board, seals and fittings can shrink allowing propellant vapors to escape, so a leak check is performed. Valves are closed to stop the propellants from escaping as they boil off, and so that pressure can be built up in the tanks. With the pad crew safely back from the vehicle the tanks are pressurized up to 40 psi with helium. After a wait period, required personnel are allowed back to Morpheus to check for leaks and make final torques on the propellant systems. The leak check generally takes about 35 minutes to complete. For most on the team this is the final calm before the storm.
When leak check is complete the TTS is checked out one more time at cryogenic temperatures and then the pressure is released from the tanks to allow the propellants to cool back down. (The explanation for that phenomenon is for future blog post.) Morpheus and the team are now ready to make the final push to flight.
Final Preparation
While the leak check was under way the pad crew was busy removing any unnecessary equipment and staging it for when the team retreats. The ground cooling of the avionics is disconnected, Morpheus is switched over to flight batteries, and the various on-board cameras are turned on. Finally, the valves are once again closed to allow for pressurization and the crew is ready to retreat from the pad area. Once the pad crew has safely retreated pressurization of the tanks begins. Pressurization takes about 20 minutes, and the flight pressures range from 300-355 psi, depending on the objectives of the day. As pressures come up we use some of the methane to cool Morpheus’ electronics, and ALHAT is also configured for flight. Once at flight pressure the helium line is disconnected and retracted to a safe distance.
The team is now ready for the final Go/No-Go poll conducted by the Test Conductor (TC). With all systems “Go” and final words from the Flight Manager (FM), the final engine conditioning is performed. The command to start the onboard ignition sequence is sent. 5…4…3…2…1…
Flight
If you’ve seen the video then I think this section speaks for itself. (A future blog will detail what Morpheus and ALHAT are doing during the flight)
Post Test
Once Morpheus is safely on the ground at the landing pad the control team executes the necessary commands to safe the vehicle systems prior to allowing the pad crew to head down range. This means venting leftover pressure, making sure there’s no fires on the vehicle, and that the laser has stopped firing.

Once down range, the pad crew works to put Morpheus on stands, so the control team can get weight readings as propellant offload occurs. If need be, the pad crew will also hook up ground cooling and power.  Propellant off-load happens one commodity at a time to get an accurate reading of how much remained on board. This information helps to refine the engine model used to predict performance. Once offload is complete, Morpheus is rolled back to the hangar where the vehicle methane tanks are inerted for safety, post-flight inspections are completed, and high-rate data is offloaded in preparation for the next flight.

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ALHAT Ensures Safe Landing for Morpheus
 

NASA's Autonomous Landing Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT) project recently completed its third free-flight test on the Morpheus prototype lander April 30, demonstrating its ability to navigate and determine safe landing sites on planetary surfaces.

Led by engineers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston and supported by Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., ALHAT technology will provide planetary landers similar to Morpheus the ability to precisely and safely land on rugged surfaces by detecting dangerous hazards such as rocks, holes and slopes.

During the 94-second test, the Morpheus vehicle took off in a cloud of dust from its launch pad just off the Shuttle Landing Facility runway at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It ascended to 807 feet (nearly 246 meters) and then began its powered descent toward the ALHAT hazard field 1,327 feet (roughly 404 meters) downrange.

During descent, Morpheus flew a route similar to that of an actual lunar lander while actively making measurements with ALHAT's three Light Detecting and Ranging, or lidar, sensors: the flash lidar, Doppler lidar and high-altitude laser altimeter. Since all three sensors use lasers, they can provide measurements in all lighting conditions.

The first sensor, the flash lidar, created an elevation map of the hazard field to identify the location of rock piles and craters. The second sensor, the Doppler lidar, was used to provide Morpheus with range and velocity data of its position relative to the landing surface. Lastly, the high-altitude laser altimeter provided altitude measurements that helped the vehicle initially locate the surface and land safely.

"During the last free flight test, the ALHAT sensors provided some of the best measurements yet, and the vehicle landed at the location that the ALHAT Hazard Detection System selected, which was another first for the system," said Langley engineer Kevin Kempton.

Testing will resume in May, when ALHAT will forgo the help of Morpheus' navigation by using only the measurements of the sensors to land the vehicle on the hazard field.

"A successful demonstration will open the gate for ALHAT technologies to be used on the next set of lander missions," Kempton said.

The Advanced Exploration Systems Division of NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate manages ALHAT and Morpheus. Advanced Exploration Systems pioneers new approaches for rapidly developing prototype systems, demonstrating key capabilities and validating operational concepts for future human missions beyond Earth orbit.

Quelle: NASA

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Update: 23.05.2014

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Lander prototype Morpheus just misses its mark

 

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CAPE CANAVERAL – A prototype NASA lander has just one more flight left at Kennedy Space Center — in darkness — after its most challenging test yet Thursday afternoon.

 

The four-legged Morpheus vehicle rocketed from a pad near the shuttle runway at 2:30 p.m. and climbed to about 800 feet.

 

From there, a suite of laser sensors and software began scanning and mapping a lunar-like hazard field north of the runway to identify up to five safe landing sites.

 

For the first time, the ALHAT sensors — short for Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology — were supposed to steer the lander to the best site, a concrete circle a quarter-mile from the launch pad.

 

Ten previous free flights since November had followed a pre-set trajectory relying on the Morpheus’ own GPS-based guidance system.

 

That system was ready to take over if the laser sensors weren’t quite as precise as engineers wanted, and that did, in fact, happen just before landing, the Project Morpheus team reported on Twitter.

 

“GREAT test today, but we must report: the vehicle took control right before landing. ALHAT slightly exceeded our tight tolerances,” the message said.

 

The Morpheus and ALHAT projects are simulating landings on another planet in an effort to advance technologies, including the autonomous landing system and a rocket engine powered by liquid methane and liquid oxygen.

 

Those technologies are more likely to be incorporated into future human or robotic exploration missions now that they have been demonstrated in flight.

 

The project team will attempt to fine-tune the performance for one final flight planned at KSC, expected around 9 p.m. Wednesday.

 

The first night flight aims to show the sensors work just as well in darkness as in daytime.
Quelle: Florida Today

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Update: 28.05.2014

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NASA's prototype lander, Morpheus, will attempt its first night flight tonight.

The four-legged vehicle is scheduled to rocket off a pad at Kennedy Space Center around 9:30 p.m. tonight.

Official hope the vehicle's ALHAT sensors – short for Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology — steer it to the best landing site.

Ten previous free flights since November had followed a pre-set trajectory relying on the Morpheus' own GPS-based guidance system. Last week's flight used the sensors but as Morpheus approached the landing site, the vehicle resumed control.

The Morpheus and ALHAT projects are simulating landings on another planet in an effort to advance technologies, including the autonomous landing system and a rocket engine powered by liquid methane and liquid oxygen.

The Morpheus lander is designed to test technology that might someday be used in a vehicle that lands on the surface of another planet. The craft has one more test upcoming at Kennedy Space Center: a night flight to validate its sensors’ ability to see in the dark.(Photo: NASA)

Quelle: Florida Today

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Update: 30.05.2014

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Erfolgreicher Nachtflug von Morpheus

A prototype NASA lander completed its first test flight at night late Wednesday, and possibly its final flight at Kennedy Space Center.(Photo: NASA)

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Morpheus completes last planned test flight at KSC

The final 98-second test aimed to show the lander's laser navigation system, called the Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology, or ALHAT, could perform just as well in darkness as in daylight.

The package of sensors and software mapped the hazard field below but chose a landing site slightly outside conservative limits established for the tests.

The system then guided Morpheus for most of its descent to the center of a concrete pad before a GPS-based system took control of the vehicle.

The successful six-month test program, which followed a 2012 crash that destroyed the first Morpheus vehicle, advanced the ALHAT sensors and Morpheus' methane-fueled engine to a point where future government or commercial space missions could incorporate them.

The Morpheus lander and control center will remain in place at KSC until at least late next month, when NASA will decide whether to wrap up the project or perhaps attempt one or two more test flights.

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"There's a lot of data that we still need to mine in detail to properly formulate future steps," said Olansen.

Quelle: Florida Today

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Update: 22.00 MESZ

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Morpheus Prototype Uses Hazard Detection System to Land Safely in Dark

NASA demonstrated that it can land an unmanned spacecraft on a rugged planetary surface in the pitch dark in a May 28, 2014 free-flight test of the Morpheus prototype lander and Autonomous Landing Hazard Avoidance Technology, or ALHAT. The 98-second test began at 10:02 p.m. EDT, with the Morpheus lander launching from the ground over a flame trench and ascending more than 800 feet (244 m) into the dark Florida sky at Kennedy Space Center using only ALHAT's Hazard Detection System for guidance. The Hazard Detection System, assisted by three light detection and ranging (lidar) sensors, located obstacles -- such as rocks and craters -- and safely landed on the lunar-like hazard field a quarter mile away from the NASA Center.

Frams: NASA-Video

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.

Quelle: NASA

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Update: 2.06.2014 

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Frams von NASA-Video:

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Quelle: NASA

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Update: 17.11.2014

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Morpheus Prototype Lander Ready for New Series of Flight Tests at Kennedy Space Center

Morpheus taking flight for Free Flight 14 on May 28, 2014. Although #14 represented the end of the team’s flight test campaign, more data is needed, and so Project Morpheus is readying to take to the skies again, with the first tethered flight test expected to occur this week. Photo Credit: NASA/Mike Chambers
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At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, at the northern edge of the former Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF), is an area that looks very much like the surface of the Moon, complete with rocks and craters to serve as a site to flight test the agency’s Morpheus prototype planetary lander. A total of 14 free flight tests have been conducted so far, the last of which took place under cover of darkness on May 28, 2014, and although Free Flight 14 (FF14) concluded Project Morpheus’ flight test campaign the team feels there are some areas they can improve upon, and so operations are again in full swing for a new series of flight tests, the first of which is currently scheduled to take place on Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014.
Quelle: AS

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Update: 20.11.2014

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Part failure cuts short Morpheus test at KSC

NASA's Morpheus lander dangled from a crane near Kennedy Space Center's shuttle runway after an aborted engine firing today.

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A prototype NASA lander fired its engine today while hanging from a crane at Kennedy Space Center, but the engine quickly cut off.
NASA said a non-engine component failure was responsible for aborting the tethered test flight of the Morpheus lander just after 3 p.m. north of KSC's shuttle runway.
The four-legged lander measuring about 10 feet tall and 10 feet on each side briefly dangled from side to side before stabilizing.
"Will review data in then next days to see what's next!" the Morpheus program reported on its Twitter feed (@MorpheusLander).
Assuming there is no major technical problem, Morpheus hopes to perform two free flights in December to test an upgraded package of laser landing sensors.
Then in January the vehicle will return home to Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Quelle: Florida Today


 

 

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