Masten Space VTVL rocket uses COTS, achieves first untethered flights

MOJAVE, Calif., 24 Sept. 2009. Masten Space Systems engineers have demonstrated multiple sustained free flights of its XA-0.1B vertical take-off, vertical landing (VTVL) rocket. The longest flight spanned 93 seconds and took place between two pads 60 meters apart -- marking the first time a purely rocket-powered VTVL has flown from Mojave Air and Space Port.

Sep 24th, 2009

MOJAVE, Calif., 24 Sept. 2009. Masten Space Systems engineers have demonstrated multiple sustained free flights of its XA-0.1B vertical take-off, vertical landing (VTVL) rocket. The longest flight spanned 93 seconds and took place between two pads 60 meters apart -- marking the first time a purely rocket-powered VTVL has flown from Mojave Air and Space Port.

"The control systems were designed to control the vehicle to high accuracy, and worked. We landed within a few inches of the target. That's pretty amazing considering the vehicle is balanced on top of a plume of burning alcohol," Masten Space Systems CEO David Masten says. "It feels great watching something work exactly the way you designed it to work."

XA-0.1B, or "Xombie" as it is called by the team, uses an internally developed flight control system using readily available commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components. "The rocket tilt to start the translation seemed to have caught the crowd by surprise! While we weren't able to test all the flight details under the tether, the control system worked exactly as expected," explains flight controls engineer Ian Garcia. Since May, the vehicle had been flying short test flights tethered to a crane for safety.

Xombie's propulsion system is a proprietary regeneratively cooled isopropyl alcohol and liquid oxygen rocket engine.

Inspection of the vehicle after the flight revealed minor damage to the thrust chamber that prevented further flights that day. "We have a good handle on the problem and we're already working on a fix," says propulsion engineer Jonathan Goff. "We should be back in the air in a week or so."

Last week's flights were part of the Masten team's first attempt at winning the NASA-funded Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge Level 1 competition.

Says Michael Mealling, vice president of business development: "Along with our recent DARPA SBIR contract, this flight signals the start of a new phase of our business."

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