NASA’s new Morpheus prototype lander has successfully completed a test launch and touchdown on a mock lunar surface in Florida all by itself – a major accomplishment after the first attempt crashed and burned – literally – in 2012.
The latest autonomous vehicle, dubbed “Bravo,” lifted off vertically from Kennedy Space Center, ascended 800 feet and followed a pre-programmed flight 1,300 feet sideways to hover over a 65-yard mock-moonscape square sandbox full of rocks and craters, Space.com reports.
Using the agency’s new automated landing and hazard avoidance technology (ALHAT), which is made up of 400-pounds of computer processing power and three instruments designed to scan potential landing surfaces for dangers, Bravo successfully mapped a hazard-free landing site 4.5 feet east of the platform’s center and gently touched down.
“We’ve been working a long time, eight years, to prove we can do autonomous, precision landing and hazard avoidance and guidance,” ALHAT project manager Chirold Epp said in a NASA statement before the test flight. “We really need to show the world that everything we’ve been advertising for eight years works.”
Morpheus uses “green propellants” liquid oxygen and methane, which are safer and cheaper compared to traditional rocket fuel and can be stored in space for extended periods of time. Morpheus crashed and exploded moments after taking off for its first free flight in 2012, but there have been no incidents since tests resumed last December.
The autonomous Morpheus vertical takeoff and landing vehicle is designed to carry a payload of up to 1,100 pounds to planetary bodies like moons or asteroids, and deploy potential robots, rovers or experimental labs.