And So We Begin Again

The roar of a 5,000lb rocket engine has returned to the Johnson Space Center. The Morpheus team has completed the build-up of our “Bravo” vehicle, conducted numerous integrated tests, and has now stepped into our flight test program. We are picking up where we left off – in fact we never stopped working. We have completed our first major milestone in conducting a 50-second static hot fire of the main engine in the vehicle, including simultaneous demonstration of thrust vector control (TVC) and integrated methane reaction control system (RCS) jet firings. Thrust vector control is used to balance and fly the vehicle, while the RCS jets are used to keep the vehicle pointed in the correct direction. We will step into dynamic tethered flights soon, in preparation for our return to KSC this summer.

The knowledge and insight we gained over the 27 test firings of the previous vehicle are fully incorporated into the testing we’re beginning now. Although a hardware failure led to the loss of the original vehicle last August, the failure and our internal investigation gave us valuable insight into areas that needed improvement. The vehicle may look largely the same as the previous version, but there are numerous changes that have been incorporated.  We have now implemented 70 different upgrades to the vehicle and ground systems to both address potential contributors to the test failure, and also to improve operability and maintainability.

Hard at Work

The Morpheus team has been hard at work preparing for this year’s series of tests and building the new Morpheus 1.5B and 1.5C vehicles.  We have been busy assembling the vehicle structures, wiring in all of our sensors, running integrated tests, continuing engine firings at Stennis Space Center, and more.

Hard at Work

Langley Helicopter with ALHAT sensors attached
running simulated Morpheus flights at KSC.
Image Credit: NASA
The Morpheus and ALHAT teams are now a combined team, which enables a more integrated series of tests as we prepare for future flight tests.  One of these integrated tests took place at Kennedy Space Center in December.  We used a Langley Research Center Huey helicopter as a stand-in for Morpheus.  We mounted the ALHAT sensors under the belly of the helicopter pointed in the direction of the helicopter motion.  Other components such as sensor electronics, Morpheus flight computer, real-time communications equipment and support hardware were placed in the passenger/cargo area.  This allowed both onboard and ground support teams to monitor progress in real-time.  The helicopter was  flown repeatedly on Morpheus-type trajectories towards the 
hazard field.