A fledgling industry of rocket and balloon companies is taking science and technology experiments into space-like environments.
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — At the edge of space, in the upper reaches of the stratosphere, extremely cold, near-vacuum conditions can be an ideal proving ground for space-related science and technology experiments.
“Earth’s atmosphere can interfere with the ability to do certain types of research, and at this height, you’re above a large majority of it,” says Andrew Antonio, director of marketing at World View, a Tucson, Arizona–based company that sends research and other high-altitude balloons into the space-like stratosphere, which he says offers an affordable environment for some space-related research.
Honeybee Robotics in Pasadena, California, flight tested its pneumatic sampler collection system, PlanetVac, on Masten Space Systems’ Xodiac rocket on May 24, launching from Mojave, California, and landing to collect a sample of more than 320 grams of top soil from the surface of the desert floor.
Masten Space Systems’ Xaero-B test vehicle was damaged during a flight at the Mojave Air and Space Port last month. The company says it has no plans to repair it at this time.
A source who requested anonymity reports the crash occurred on April 19. The vehicle rose about five to 10 feet off its launch pad, began to pitched over and then fell to the desert floor, the source said.
Video Caption: Over the past five weeks, NASA and Masten teams have prepared for and conducted sub-orbital rocket flight tests of next-generation lander navigation technology through the CoOperative Blending of Autonomous Landing Technologies (COBALT) project.
The COBALT payload was integrated onto Masten’s rocket, Xodiac. The Xodiac vehicle used the Global Positioning System (GPS) for navigation during this first campaign, which was intentional to verify and refine COBALT system performance. The joint teams conducted numerous ground verification tests, made modifications in the process, practiced and refined operations’ procedures, conducted three tether tests, and have now flown two successful free flights. This successful, collaborative campaign has provided the COBALT and Xodiac teams with the valuable performance data needed to refine the systems and prepare them for the second flight test campaign this summer when the COBALT system will navigate the Xodiac rocket to a precision landing.
The technologies within COBALT provide a spacecraft with knowledge during entry, descent and landing that enables it to precisely navigate and softly land close to surface locations that have been previously too risky to target with current capabilities. The technologies will enable future exploration destinations on Mars, the moon, Europa, and other planets and moons.
The two primary navigation components within COBALT include the Langley Research Center’s Navigation Doppler Lidar, which provides ultra-precise velocity and line-of-sight range measurements, and Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Lander Vision System, which provides navigation estimates relative to an existing surface map.
The integrated system is being flight tested onboard a Masten Space Systems suborbital rocket vehicle called Xodiac. The COBALT project is led by the Johnson Space Center, with funding provided through the Game Changing Development, Flight Opportunities program, and Advanced Exploration Systems programs.
MOJAVE, Calif. (NASA PR) — Many regions in the solar system beckon for exploration, but they are considered unreachable due to technology gaps in current landing systems. The CoOperative Blending of Autonomous Landing Technologies (COBALT) project, conducted by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate’s (STMD) and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, could change that.
Through a flight campaign this month through April, COBALT will mature and demonstrate new guidance, navigation and control (GN&C) technologies to enable precision landing for future exploration missions.
HAMPTON, Va. (NASA PR) — A laser-guided navigation sensor that could help future rovers make safe, precise landings on Mars or destinations beyond will soon undergo testing in California’s Mojave Desert.
The Navigation Doppler Lidar, or NDL, which was developed at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, will be flight tested aboard a rocket-powered Vertical Take-off, Vertical Landing (VTVL) platform, named Xodiac, developed by Masten Space Systems, in Mojave, California.
Video Caption: Introducing the next generation of reusable rockets – Masten’s Xodiac and XaeroB.
As the successors to Xombie, Xoie, and Xaero, these two rockets serve as terrestrial test beds for commercial and government developers. Features of Masten terrestrial test bed include:
precision vertical landing
custom flight profile
custom physical/mechanical integration
rocket powered station keeping
Reusable. Repeatable. Precise.
Masten Space Systems reusable launch vehicles are low-altitude, rocket-powered, autonomous Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTVL) testbeds.
Our approach to flight operations is rapid iteration and same day turnaround. We quickly test, evaluate, pivot, and test again.
Leveraging Masten’s vehicles and platform, engineers are able to safely and accurately test their developing space systems in a relevant operational environment before it gets to the Moon, Mars, or anywhere else in the solar system.
The Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference finished up today in Colorado. There were provider presentations from Masten Space Systems and Virgin Galactic. Three researchers also presented results from suborbital microgravity flights.
Below are summaries of the sessions based on Tweets. (more…)