NASA has successfully tested its Morpheus lander prototype. It launched today over a flame trench at NASA's Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility, climbed 50 feet into the air, hovered for 15 seconds, flew 23 feet and landed on the designated pad. Once put into service, the Morpheus model will be used to deliver cargo and fuel to asteroids and other extraterrestrial surfaces, as well as refuel deep-space probes. This is the same model that last year crashed and burst into flames like four Jiffy Pops going supernova.
It's fair to say the Morpheus has regained some of its lost respect and credibility from the space-faring fan community. The vessel, which is about the size of a car, can hold a 1,100-lb payload in its cargo bays. It uses a fuel composite that is intentionally formulated to be safer, less expensive, and somewhat less explosive than standard lander propulsion fuels. It is propelled by liquid oxygen and methane, which are also comparatively environmentally friendly and can last longer in storage.
The lander uses a NASA-designed laser guidance system to navigate around surface obstacles. NASA refers to that system as "automated landing and hazard avoidance" or ALHAT.
Today marked the first successful free flight for Project Morpheus, about four years in the making. Last year's test of Morpheus saw it hover for only about 12 seconds before succumbing to gravity and friction. At the time, engineers at NASA reported the cause of the catastrophe to be a "hardware component failure, which prevented it from maintaining stable flight."