CAPE CANAVERAL - A small NASA lander being tested for missions to the moon and other destinations beyond Earth crashed and burned after veering off course during a trial run at the Kennedy Space Centre, officials with the US space agency said.
There were no injuries after the prototype, known as Morpheus, burst into flames near the runway formerly used by NASA’s space shuttles.
The insect-like vehicle, designed and built by engineers at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston, had made several flights attached to a crane before Thursday’s attempted free-flight.
Morpheus’ engines, which burn liquid oxygen and methane, appeared to ignite as planned, lifting the 1,750-pound (794 kg) vehicle into the air. But a few seconds later, Morpheus rolled over on its side and plummeted to the ground. NASA video showed the vehicle engulfed in flames and then rocked by a spectacular explosion, presumably due to the fuel tanks rupturing.
“Failures such as these were anticipated prior to the test, and are part of the development process for any complex spaceflight hardware,” NASA said in a statement. An investigation is under way, the statement added.
Project Morpheus began in partnership with privately owned Armadillo Aerospace, which is developing re-usable, suborbital vehicles that take off and land vertically.
NASA, which has spent about $7 million (4.4 million pounds) on the project over the past 2-1/2 years, is interested in developing technologies that could be used to fly cargo to the moon and other future missions beyond Earth orbit.