Mar. 5 - NASA engineers say they have successfully tested a new low-cost, environmentally-friendly launch system for future autonomous missions to the moon and beyond. The launch vehicle prototype gets its lift from a fuel made of methane and liquid oxygen, a combination that has proven its credentials in dramatic style. Rob Muir reports.
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Named after the Greek god of dreams, Project Morpheus is a dream of spectacular proportions.
On February 27 at the Johnson Space Center, the latest version of Morpheus proved its potential with a new engine powered by a fuel mixture of liquid oxygen and methane, a propellant that could potentially be manufactured on the moon, the craft's first theoretical destination.
Morpheus is a test-bed for the first lunar landing craft to be be built by NASA in forty years. It's being used to test a number of new technologies to produce a safe and reliable autonomous lunar descent.
With each test, has come new challenges, like this one.
A new the thruster termination system was being assessed and while it didn't go quite according to plan, the problem was quickly corrected.
"This is why we test", say the engineers.
But the focus now is the fuel. Traditionally, NASA has used propellants made of two or more chemical components that ingnite on contact. But liquid methane and liquid oxygen fuel is more than ten times less expensive and is non-toxic to the atmosphere of any planet with which it comes into contact.
The project has come about amid cost-cutting at NASA. It's hoped that the craft will one day be capable of landing on the moon, Mars and even an asteroid, at a fraction of the cost of missions in the past.
The testing continues.
Rob Muir, Reuters.
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