Morpheus Lunar Lander
August 10, 2012

Morpheus Lunar Lander Crashes And Burns During Testing

[ Watch the Video: Morpheus Flight Test Failure ]

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

It took plenty of failures to lead to the success of NASA landing Curiosity on Mars, and while the Jet Propulsion Laboratory team is still all grins over the recent rover mission, a new NASA prototype has taken a step towards eventual success by finding failure this week.

The prototype lunar lander Morpheus experienced a malfunction this week during testing, leading the future NASA spacecraft to crash and burn.

"The Morpheus lander experienced a failure, causing it to catch fire," NASA said on the Morpheus Twitter page. "No one was injured. Information will be released as soon as possible."

NASA said that the methane-powered Morpheus lander underwent an untethered test, after successfully completing many tethered tests.

"The vehicle itself is lost," Jon Olansen, the Morpheus project manager, told reporters. "But we are working currently on gathering more data and information to understand what occurred in the test and how we can learn from it and move forward."

Just seconds after lifting off the ground using its rockets, Morpheus tilted, and then came crashing back into the ground.

Upon crashing into the ground, the future moon lander caught fire, and was then put out.

Morpheus was a test bed demonstrating propellant propulsion systems and autonomous landing and hazard detection technology.

The spacecraft was designed to be large enough to carry 1,100 pounds of cargo to the moon, and provide a primary focus to demonstrate an integrated propulsion and guidance, navigation and control system.

"The workforce behind Project Morpheus has gained valuable experience that will provide the corner stone for design of future missions," NASA says on its Morpheus lander website. "In addition, the project is setting mid-range performance and design requirements that will drive down the production cost of future landers — Project Morpheus is taking the lessons learned from our industry partners to facilitate this alternative design approach."

Olansen said operators have recovered memory devices from the wreckage and will be gathering up the data to help them find clues in search of what caused the accident.

"From early indications, it seems to be within our guidance navigation control system, seems to point toward hardware," Olansen said.

NASA spent about $7 million on the project over two and a half years, but the one lost on Thursday was in the "$500,000 class."  Another prototype is currently under construction at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.