CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – The Morpheus lander that is at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to conduct test flights has crashed and caught fire. The test flight took place out at KSC’s Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) today, Aug. 9, 2012 at 12:40 p.m. EDT.
The prototype managed to get about a foot into the air before it tipped over on its side and caught fire. Whether this will cause the Morpheus Program to either be put on hold or stopped altogether remains unclear. Kennedy Space Center’s NASA Public Affairs issued the following statement shortly after the accident:
During today’s free-flight test of the Project Morpheus vehicle lifted off the ground and then experienced a hardware component failure, which prevented it from maintaining stable flight. No one was injured and the resulting fire was extinguished by KSC fire personnel. Engineers are looking into the incident and the agency will release information as it comes available.
The Morpheus lander is a special technology demonstration program. The lander is fueled by liquid methane, which is different than conventional rocket fuel sources. NASA was looking to develop this new fuel source and Morpheus was designed to test the viability of Methane as a potential fuel. A liquid oxygen/liquid methane combination could replace the toxic hypergolic fuels NASA currently uses on spacecraft.
More importantly a Methane/liquid Oxygen fuel combination could enable future vehicles to refuel using a technique called in-situ resource utilization, or ISRU. ISRU means using materials available at the exploration site astronauts may be visiting to sustain the mission. NASA is working on technology to produce oxygen from lunar dust and methane from the atmosphere of Mars. Additionally, LOX/methane is 10 to 20 times cheaper than hypergolic fuels.
Reports from KSC have stated that Morpheus appears to have been totaled. Please stay tuned for future updates.