April 02, 2013
LOS ANGELES — Masten Space Systems’ XA-0.1B “Xombie’ vertical-landing, suborbital rocket demonstrator reached 1,626 ft., its highest altitude yet, during a test flight of a precision navigation system at Mojave, Calif., on March 25.
The vehicle was controlled for the 80-sec. flight by Charles Stark Draper Laboratory’s Guidance Embedded Navigator Integration Environment (Genie) system developed under NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program. The agency is using the Xombie and Genie — a closed-loop planetary guidance, navigation and control system — to begin tests of prototype landing instrument for future missions to the Moon or Mars.
NASA adds that the flight, which included movement along a realistic planetary approach trajectory with a translation distance of 984 ft., “established a test-bed capability that will allow for landing demonstrations that start at much higher altitudes — several miles above the ground.”
The Flight Opportunities program, part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, began test efforts in December 2011, and will build on the envelope expansion proved in the most recent flight to integrate additional landing sensor technologies in the future.
The overall Flight Opportunities program aims to develop and mature new technology payloads using suborbital reusable launch vehicles, high-altitude balloons and parabolic aircraft that can carry them to “space-relevant” reduced gravity or near-space environments. The program recently selected 13 space technology payloads for flights in 2013 and 2014. The flights will be carried aloft by Zero-G’s Boeing 727, high-altitude balloons from Near Space in Tillamook, Ore., as well as reusable launch vehicles including Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, UP Aerospace’s reusable launch vehicle and vehicles developed by Masten.
As well as flying Xombie with the Genie system, Masten also continues development of the more capable Xaero B. Built to carry payloads to altitudes of up to 30 km, the reusable, liquid-fueled vehicle will stand around 16 ft. tall when complete.
With hot fire rocket tests either already underway or expected soon, the Zero B is set to make a flight later this year that will attempt to go beyond 6 km, making it eligible to carry payloads for the Flight Opportunities program. For flights up to 200 km and beyond, Masten also is developing a reusable suborbital vehicle called Xogdor. A scale up of the Xaero, the vehicle will have larger propellant tanks and an engine three times as powerful.