Small test vehicle veers out of control, crashes at KSC
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: August 9, 2012
A small vertical-takeoff-and-landing rocket being used to test advanced technologies veered off course an instant after liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center Thursday, crashed and exploded in a spectacular burst of fire and smoke. There were no injuries or other property damage, officials said.
The rocket's engine burns liquid oxygen and methane, a propellant that can be easily stored in space. The Morpheus rocket has been test fired while attached to a crane, but engineers were staging its first untethered free flight Thursday near the Kennedy Space Center's shuttle runway.
The rocket's engine appeared to ignite normally and the vehicle climbed vertically for just an instant before tipping over and crashing on its side. A few moments later, as the wreckage burned, a secondary explosion erupted, presumably the result of a ruptured tank.
"Engineers are looking into the test data and the agency will release information as it comes available. Failures such as these were anticipated prior to the test, and are part of the development process for any complex spaceflight hardware. What we learn from these tests will help us build the best possible system in the future."
On its web page, Morpheus engineers described the rocket as a demonstration test bed for "green propellant propulsion systems and autonomous landing and hazard detection technology.
"It was manufactured and assembled at JSC and Armadillo Aerospace," the project said on its web page. "Morpheus is large enough to carry 1,100 pounds of cargo to the moon -- for example, a humanoid robot, a small rover, or a small laboratory to convert moon dust into oxygen -- performing all propellant burns after the trans-lunar injection.
The Morpheus rocket engine burns liquid oxygen and methane, which offers several advantages over more traditional propellants. Methane can be stored longer in space, it's relative inexpensive and safe to operate, engineers said. It also could be eventually manufactured on the moon or Mars