Masten Space Systems completes Level 1 of Lunar Lander Challenge

photo courtesy of Masten Space Systems

photo courtesy of Masten Space Systems

This week Masten Space Systems completed Level 1 of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. They join Armadillo Aerospace (who completed Level 2) to complete a level of this X-Prize challenge. Both flights landed less than 20cm off center and were conducted flawlessly.

Mojave, California – October 8, 2009 – Masten Space Systems successfully completed level one of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge X Prize Wednesday. The 715lb vehicle originally named XA0.1B – referred to as “Xombie” – completed two flights to qualify for the $150,000 Level One prize of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge.

The flight trajectory involved taking off from a pre-designated launch pad, ascending to an altitude of 53 meters, flying 50 meters horizontally to another pad, and landing as close as possible to the pad’s center. The small Masten Space team then refueled Xombie before making an identical flight back to the original pad. Average landing accuracy for the two flights was 16cm (6.3 inches) from the target on each pad.

Qualifying for level one of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge X Prize is a huge demonstration of the company’s ability to turn a vehicle around quickly and efficiently as it works towards a high flight rate commercially. “We flew two fairly boring flights within two hours. I suspect we could have done it half a dozen more times if we had the fuel available. We should be offering that same operational efficiency to our customers very soon,” said David Masten, CEO.

Xombie’s propulsion system is a proprietary regeneratively cooled isopropyl alcohol and liquid oxygen rocket engine. The engine was originally designed for 750 pounds of thrust but is now running at around 900 pounds. “Xombie’s current engine is a variation to those we’ve used in the past,” said propulsion engineer Jonathan Goff. “We expect to continue to use this line of engines well into the future and make them available commercially.”

“Being able to complete level one means we’re ready to start scaling up the vehicles and pushing the flight envelope” said Ian Garcia, Masten’s flight software engineer. “I’m really looking forward to going higher and faster until we hit space.”

In addition to flying “Xombie,” the Masten team is assembling and testing another vehicle – XA0.1E – for two Level Two attempts later this month. “XA0.1E – or ‘Xoie’ as she’s called – is lighter and has larger propellant tanks to handle the additional flight time required for Level Two,” said project manager Ben Brockert. “Now that Xombie is done we can focus exclusively on Xoie. Being able to compete for both Level 1 and Level 2 in the same month with two different vehicles will be a seriously cool accomplishment.”

Masten expects to begin offering payload slots on low altitude commercial flights by 2010. “Using the same technologies and operational procedures demonstrated in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, we can offer affordable payload options for research, Technology Readiness Level acceleration, or quality assurance applications,” said Michael Mealling, Vice President of Business Development. “Along with our recent Department of Defense SBIR contract, this flight signals the advance of Masten Space Systems into a new stage of business.”

“Ultimately, we are looking to open up the final frontier by making space travel as safe, simple and ubiquitous as flying an airplane,” said Masten. “This is just one small step on that path.”

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