|Dry mass||1000 kg|||
|Propellant mass||2900 kg|||
|Propellant tanks||4 off|||
|Primary RCS propellant||methane/LOX|||
|RCS thrust||22–67 N|||
|Backup RCS propellant||helium (He)|||
|Class of lasers in ALHAT||IV|||
|Specific Impulse||321 s|||
|Maximum burn (tested)||123 s|||
|Fuel mixture ratio||(TBD)||-|
|Maximum service life||(TBD)||-|
Morpheus#1 is being used as an Earth based vertical test bed vehicle demonstrating new green propellant propulsion systems and autonomous landing and hazard detection technology. The Alpha prototype lander was manufactured and assembled at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) and Armadillo Aerospace's facility near Dallas. The prototype lander is a "spacecraft" that is about 10 feet (3.0 m) in diameter, weighs approximately 2,300 pounds (1,000 kg) and consists of four silver spherical propellant tanks topped by avionics boxes and a web of wires.
The project is trying out cost and time saving “lean development” engineering practices. Other project activities include appropriate ground operations, flight operations, range safety and the instigation of software development procedures. Landing pads and control centers were also constructed. From the project start in July 2010 about $10 million was spent on materials in the following 3+ years; so the Morpheus project was considered lean and low-cost for NASA. In 2012 the project employed 25 full-time team members and 60 students.:p. 18 (Updates.)
The primary focus of the Morpheus vehicle was to demonstrate:
- the integrated system performance of the autonomous Guidance, Navigation and Control (GN&C) system,
- terrain hazard avoidance sensors,
- the coupled of the sensors with the GN&C,
- the utilization of a quad configuration liquid oxygen and liquid methane propulsion system.[Note a]
The testbed can optionally be fitted with the Autonomous Landing Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT) equipment permitting landings without operator interaction. ALHAT permits the lander to fly to a specified location with high accuracy and to automatically avoid hazards including slopes greater than 5 degrees and boulders taller than 30 cm.
In June 2013 the team said they hope to scale the 500 kg payload lander up to produce one able to land a habitat with a crew on places such as the Moon.
Project Morpheus started in July 2010 and was named after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. The Morpheus spacecraft was derived from the experimental lander produced by Project M with the assistance of Armadillo Aerospace. Project M (NASA) was a NASA initiative to land a humanoid robot on the lunar surface in 1000 days. Work on some of the landers systems began in 2006, when NASA’s Constellation program planned a human return to the moon.
The Morpheus #1 Unit A test vehicle was first hot-fired 15 April 2011.
Morpheus's new 4,200 pounds-force (19,000 N) engine permitted NASA to design a larger vehicle than its parent (a NASA assembled copy of Armadillo Aerospace's Pixel). The engine was upgraded again to 5,000 pounds-force (22,000 N) in 2013. A new design of landing gear was part of the Mechanical changes. NASA also replaced the avionics - this included power distribution and storage, instrumentation, the flight computer, communications and software. The enhanced landing system permits Morpheus, unlike the Pixels, to land without help from a pilot.
For Range Safety purposes the Morpheus#1 prototype falls into the category of guided suborbital reusable rocket.:p. 11
On August 9, 2012 the prototype Morpheus #1 Unit A (Alpha) lander crashed on take off, whilst performing its first untethered flight at Kennedy Space Center. No one was injured and no property was damaged but the vehicle was damaged beyond repair. The project investigated the cause and continued by building unit B.
Autumn 2012 the Project Morpheus and ALHAT teams were combined.
On February 7, 2013 the Project Morpheus team blogged that they have built the Morpheus 1.5B and 1.5C vehicles. The vehicles are due to undergo a series of static hot fire and dynamic tethered flight tests at Johnson Space Center spring 2013 in preparation for a return to free-flight testing at Kennedy Space Center later in the year. After about 3 months of free-flight testing the vehicle could be reaching a height of nearly half a mile high.
On May 1, 2013 the replacement Morpheus #1.5 Unit B testbed was Hot Fired at the Johnson Space Center. The replacement's enhancements include a 5000 lbf thrust main engine, thrust vector control (TVC) and integrated methane reaction control system (RCS).
On June 14, 2013 rapid reusability was demonstrated by having two flights using the same lander on the same day.
In July 2013 the ALHAT equipment was integrated into and tested with the lander.
On September 26, 2013 the vehicles performed 20 short engine firings at a variety of conditions whilst fastened to the ground.
In November 2013 the Bravo Lander was taken to Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Florida for free flight testing. $750,000 of parts were purchased to make the replacement lander. KSC limited the noise vibrations on the lander as it lifts off by designed a mobile launch pad with a built in flame trench.
The Project Morpheus vehicle 'Morpheus' is a full scale vehicle that NASA intends to be capable of landing Robonaut or a similar sized payload to the lunar surface. The spacecraft will perform all propellant burns after the trans lunar injection. 
Navigation is completely autonomous from Lunar Orbit to touchdown. Navigation updates come from TRN Laser altimetry and star trackers after deorbit burn. Deep space navigation relies on radiometric and star trackers.
To save money and time the prototype Morpheus landers are "single-string" prototypes, this means that unlike a spacecraft rated for actual space flight they do not have redundant systems. The exceptions are stated below.
- Engine burns the environmentally green propellants methane and oxygen, pressurized by helium
- The Morpheus HD5 engine produces 4,200 pounds-force (19,000 N) thrust compatible with the Altair ascent stage (Later up graded for Units B and C, see below)
- The engine has a maximum specific impulse (Isp) during space flight of 321 seconds.
- The engine is gimballed by two orthogonal electromechanical actuators (EMAs) to provide thrust vector control of lateral translation, and pitch and yaw attitudes.
- Has four 48 inches (1,200 mm) diameter tanks, 2 for liquid methane and 2 for liquid oxygen - able to contain about 2,900 kilograms (6,400 lb) of propellant
- (Disputed). According to 'Florida Today' the approximate dry mass is 2,300 pounds (1,000 kg), where as the 'Daily Mail' reports the approximate dry mass as 1,750 pounds (790 kg)
- Size about 10 feet (3.0 m) in diameter.
- The Version 1.5 lander, with its HD5 engine, can land 1,100 pounds (500 kg), this includes performing all propellant burns after the trans lunar injection.
- The primary Reaction Control System (RCS) thrusters, used to control the lander's roll, use methane and LOX from the main tanks. Thrust produced is 5–15 pounds-force (22–67 N).
- The backup RCS uses helium (He).
- An AITech S900 CompactPCI board with a PowerPC 750 processor is used as the main computer.
- Up to 16 GB of data can be stored on board.
- Data buses include RS-422, RS-232, Ethernet and MIL-STD-1553.
- The avionics and power unit (APU) are cooled using liquid methane, any resulting vapor is then vented.
- Onboard cameras.
- Telemetry is returned using the spread spectrum wireless communications.
- Electrical power is supplied by 8 lithium polymer batteries.
- GN&C sensor suite including:
- Goddard Space Flight Center’s (GSFC) Core Flight Software (CFS) provides the architecture for the vehicle's software.
- Each of the 4 legs has a foot pad covered with fire resistant material to soften landings.
- The standalone accelerometer units were built using the Modular Instrumentation System (MIS) designed by Johnson Space Center
- Optional ALHAT hardware. The ALHAT equipment and its mass are considered part of the payload.
Commands can be sent using separate Ultra High Frequency (UHF) radios to the thrust termination system (TTS). Use of the TTS by range safety will close two motorized valves which shut off the flow of liquid oxygen and methane to the engine - thereby terminating engine thrust. These TTS valves are completely independent from the rest of the vehicle systems.
For further details see the "Morpheus: Advancing Technologies for Human Exploration" paper.
The prototype Morpheus #1 Unit B lander is using the same design as the prototype Morpheus #1.5 Unit A lander with the following changes:
- Backup systems for the Inertial Measurement Unit were added 
- 70 different upgrades to the vehicle and ground systems to both address potential contributors to the test failure, and also to improve operability and maintainability. These include:
- advanced engine performance capability,
- enhanced communication protocols,
- redundant instrumentation where appropriate,
- increased structural margins,
- and mitigated launch vibroacoustic environments.
- The NASA made upgraded Morpheus engine produces 5,000 pounds-force (22,000 N) thrust
- The project estimates that the new engine could lift the ascent stage of a manned lander containing 3-4 people to lunar orbit
- The connectors were replaced by military-specification versions.
- Rapid reuseability, permitting multiple flights in a day.
- The Lander can handle winds of about 10 miles per hour (16 km/h).
- Unit B is also called the Bravo vehicle.
The prototype Morpheus #1 Unit C lander is using the same design as the prototype Morpheus #1.5 Unit A lander with the following changes:
- Enhancements as Unit B above 
Project Morpheus lean development philosophy resulted in a mixture of new and previously existing software being used. Software is used in a:
- the vertical test bed (lander). The NASA-Goddard-Space-Flight-Center-developed Core Flight Software (CFS) has been enhanced with specific applications software and custom sensor and I/O applications.
- hardware development. Including using the OVERFLOW package (and wind tunnel tests).
- the ground environment including mission control. Mission Control Technologies has been used to display propellant tank pressures and other parameters during test firing.
- the ALHAT system.
- flight simulation, both offline and connected to flight hardware. Packages used include JSC Trick Simulation Environment, the JSC Engineering Orbital Dynamics (JEOD) package and the JSC generic models Valkyrie package. The parameters have been tuned to reflect the Morpheus flight hardware such as actuators and data obtained from the tethered test flights.
Test bed tests
As of April 2011 the primary focus of the test bed is to demonstrate an integrated propulsion and GN&C system that can fly a lunar descent profile, thereby exercising the Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT), safe landing sensors and closed-loop flight control system.
Additional objectives include technology demonstrations such as tank material and manufacture, reaction control thrusters, main engine performance improvements, Helium pressurization systems, ground operations, flight operations, range safety, software and avionics architecture.
The Vertical Test Bed (VTB) Flight Complex at JSC has been successfully using the Mission Control Technologies (MCT) software written at NASA Ames to control the test flights of the Morpheus lander. Parameters displayed include propellant tank pressures.
A set of integrated vehicle test flights including hot-fire, tethered hover tests and untethered “free-flights” were devised for the Morpheus vehicle.
The testing, test results and equipment modifications performed during 2011, up to and including Tethered Test 6 (TT6), were published in the conference proceeding of the 2012 IEEE Aerospace Conference at Big Sky, MT
Videos of the test flights have been posted on the Morpheus Lander Channel on YouTube. This includes the 2012 regression test flights with the more powerful V1.5 engine whilst the lander is tethered, and the problematic early test flight that shows "This is why we test".
On May 10, 2012 the testbed passed its hover and soft abort tests, shown in video "Morpheus Tether Test 15". The lander was returned to the workshop to have the ALHAT equipment fitted. The Reaction Control System (RCS) thrusters were also fitted.
Link to video of Morpheus tether test 18, a hover test at the Johnson Space Centre with the ALHAT sensors switched on.
Summer 2012 the Morpheus Lander V1.5 Unit A was transferred to the Kennedy Space Center, FL, to permit untethered flight testing. During the summer of 2012 a "hazard field" containing hazards such as rocks and craters built at the end of the Space Shuttle's runway to test that the ALHAT system can automatically navigate to a clear landing site. As can be seen in the photograph the Kennedy's wide open spaces permit the entire flight path including runway and hazard field to be surrounded by a fire break consisting of a moat filled with water. During the planned test flights the vehicle will climb as high as 1,600 feet (490 m), reach up to 70 miles per hour (110 km/h) and stay in the air as long as two minutes.
The 330 by 330 feet (100 by 100 m) hazard field included five potential landing pads, 311 piles of rocks and 24 craters that mimic an area on the moon’s south pole.
On July 20, 2012, the 43rd anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, the Morpheus test vehicle arrived at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for advanced testing. The high performance HD5 version of the Morpheus engine was performance tested at the Stennis Space Center in the summer of 2012. The testing and building of the hazard field were paid for by NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Program (AES).
During Autumn 2012 and early 2013 a fourth and a fifth generation Morpheus methane/LOX rocket engine were test fired at Stennis Space Center. A successful long duration burn lasted 123 seconds. Other tests verified capabilities and throttle levels.
Fuel tanks for the lander were put through a series of inspections and tests, including checking welds for defects and cycling tank pressure to establish a minimum cycle life expectancy of the tanks. The maximum pressure capability was verified by pressurizing a sacrificial tank until it burst.
On May 1, 2013 at JSC the replacement Unit B Morpheus testbed was Hot Fired for 50 seconds whilst fully tethered. The integrated methane reaction control system (RCS) and thrust vector control (TVC) jets were fired. Many enhancements had been incorporated into the vehicle and ground systems.
On May 16, 2013 at JSC the testbed was Hot Fired whilst fastened to the ground and later tethered 3 feet (0.91 m) above the ground, followed by some RCS tests. A small leak was repaired allowing the testing of the effects of vibration to be nominal. In preparation for the tests the fire break around the test area had been paved and a mini "Frame Trench" dug.
On May 24, 2013 at JSC the V1.5B testbed was high tethered. There was a good ignition and climb. A soft abort terminated the flight when the vehicle exceeded an internally set boundary limit whilst attempting to stabilize itself.
On June 11, 2013 in a tethered test at JSC the backup Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) passed its flight test. The flight lasted 27 seconds including 17 seconds hovering.
On June 14, 2013 performed two tethered flights. The first firing was soft aborted when the vehicle exceed its tight safety zone due to an imbalance in the fuel load. The 2nd firing was successful. This counts as a restarting of the engine. During the second flight the vehicle successfully switched from using its primary Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) to the secondary IMU.
In Early July 2013 integration tests were performed with an ALHAT attached to the Morpheus lander. These tests included "Tilt" tests where the lander's legs raised on different heights of blocks so the attitude is off vertical.
On July 11, 2013 the first tethered flight test of Morpheus vehicle "Bravo" with Autonomous Landing & Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT) laser sensors integrated on top was performed. On the second attempt there was had a good ignition, but during ascent the vehicle translated downrange and exceeded the internally set range safety boundary limit (+/-4m) for tether tests triggering an automatic soft abort.
On July 23, 2013 Tethered Test 26 was successfully performed. The lander and ALHAT flow to and hovered at two different heights. Both the primary RCS (methane/LOX) and the backup RCS (He) were used producing a successful 'landing' at the end of the tether. Lateral excursion was a maximum of only ~0.2 m. The ALHAT's tracking and imaging were nominal, managing to identify the hazard target.
On July 27, 2013 the combined Morpheus/ALHAT Tethered Test 27 worked. The lander took off, performed ALHAT imaging and then a lateral translation.
On August 7, 2013 Tethered Test 28 was successfully performed. In a flight lasting ~80 seconds the vehicle executed an engine ignition, ascent, a 3 meter lateral translation over simulated Mars soil, 40 seconds of hover at the apex, and a slant descent to "landing" using free flight guidance. The Mars simulated soil was provided by Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) as part of a plume study.
On August 23, 2013 Bravo lander successfully performed Tethered Test 29 (TT29) at JSC. During the ~50 second flight Bravo's actions included ignition, ascent and a 3 meter lateral translation. There was 10 seconds of hover at the apex, and a slant descent to the crane "landing" using free flight guidance. A camera has been placed at the crane allowing bird's eye pictures.
On August 29, 2013 Bravo lander successfully performed the ~63 second Tethered Test 30 flight at JSC. After an ascent of 5 meters with 15 seconds of hover at the apex, a 3 meter backwards lateral translation was performed. Followed by another 15 seconds of hover, and a forward slant descent.
On September 18, 2013 in strong winds the Bravo lander successfully performed Tether Test 31. This flight was a quick turnaround after the previous day's testing had been scrubbed. Various problems were solved by the team.
On September 24, 2013 the Lander was launched from the ground. Several problems were detected resulting in an abort. The problems included a false "engine nozzle burn-through" alert and engine startup instability. On September 26, 2013 test HF10 was performed. This involved 20 short firings of the engine on the same day at a variety of pressures, temperatures and power levels. The investigation aimed to probe the instability boundaries of the engine during startup.
On October 29, 2013 the lander and its rocket engine methane/LOX performed six off 600ms burns whilst on top of the trench at JSC. There were no instabilities.
On November 1, 2013 with all the software and hardware enhancements included the lander successfully performed a tethered flight test. The vehicle performed an air start whilst being supported by the tether.
On November 7, 2013 the project completed testing the lander at JSC with a Ground Test Takeoff and Landing (GTAL). The vehicle flew nominally and landed within 1 inch (2.5 cm) cross range and 6 inches (15 cm) downrange of its intended target. The GTAL test characterized the performance of the vehicle in lifting off from launch stands on the ground, flying to a height of 21 feet (6.4 m), hover and descent profile, and landing back on the ground at a separate pad 10 feet (3.0 m) from its launch point. (This demonstrates that the faults revealed by Incident 2 below on August 9, 2012 have been found and fixed.)
On December 6, 2013 the integrated vehicle passed Tether Test 33 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This was a repeat of TT29 (see above). The test was primary performed to verify that the Bravo lander was OK after being transported from Texas.
On December 10, 2013 FF03 the first free flight of a Morpheus prototype lander was successfully conducted at Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility. The 54-second test began with the Morpheus lander launching from the ground over a flame trench and ascending approximately 50 feet, then hovering for about 15 seconds. The lander then flew forward and landed on its pad about 23 feet from the launch point and about 6 inches from the target point.
On December 17, 2013 the Morpheus Lander successfully performed Free Flight 04. The pre-planned trajectory was flown flawlessly, landing within 3.5 inches of its intended target. Morpheus ascended from the ground over the flame trench to an altitude of about 164 feet (50 m), after pausing briefly at 82 feet (25 m) to maintain the target ascent velocities. The vehicle then flew forward, covering about 154 feet (47 m) in 30 seconds, before descending and landing on a dedicated landing pad inside the ALHAT Hazard Field.
NASA's Johnson Space Center collaborated with several firms, academic installations and other NASA centers whilst building and testing the Alpha and Bravo prototype Morpheus landers.
"For Morpheus and ALHAT, JSC has partnerships with Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for flight-testing; Stennis Space Center (SSC) for engine testing; Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) for engine development and lander expertise; Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) for core flight software development; and Langley Research Center (LaRC) and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for ALHAT development. Commercial partnerships with enterprises such as Jacobs Engineering, Armadillo Aerospace, Draper Labs, and others have augmented the development and operation of many aspects of the project."
Health and Safety issues
The lander and the ALHAT are electrically powered devices so the standard techniques for handling and repairing electrical devices apply.
The equipment contains moving parts which should not be touched when they are moving or powered up.
The thrusters and jets can get very hot so they should not be touched until they have cooled down.
The machine has significant mass and can be above waist height (see above) so hard hats and metal toed shoes shall be worn when transporting and operating.
Propellants can catch fire. Overheating cryogenic propellants in fuel tanks and Dewars can explode.
The lander uses cryogenic propellants able to cause frostbite so the safety rules for handling cryogenics shall be used.
- This includes using safety goggles or full face shields.
- Loose fitting grease free nylon gloves.
- Non absorbent clothing that covers the entire body and footwear - preferably of an approved design.
See Cryogenic Safety - 2013 WFF Safety Awareness Campaign.
The LIDAR and altimeter in the ALHAT emit Class IV laser beams.
- Safety goggles rated to protect against LASER light should be worn when the ALHAT is powered up. (The same applies when using any Class IV or 3B laser.)
- The laser beams shall be directed away from people and anything they could damage.
- During tests and operations the outdoor rules may also apply.
The rules for handling lasers at the Johnson Space Centre can be found in Chapter 6-2 of the JSC Handbook.
The above dangers necessitate that the launch area is cleared of people when the lander is fueled and flown.
- On June 1, 2011, a test of the Morpheus lander caused a large grass fire on the grounds of the Johnson Space Center. A minor incident: no one was injured and the Lander was fine. Subsequently a 10 feet (3.0 m) wide fire break was dug around the test area to prevent the spread of any possible grass fires.
- On August 9, 2012, the lander tipped over, crashed, caught fire, and exploded twice during its initial free-flight test at the Kennedy Space Center. The fire was extinguished after the tanks had exploded. No one was injured but the vehicle was not in a recoverable condition. Following the accident about 70 different upgrades to the vehicle design and ground systems were made including adding some redundant instrumentation and mitigating the launch vibroacoustic environment. Military-grade cable connectors and bus couplers have been fitted to the replacement vehicles as well as creating a flame trench on the launch-pad to reduce vibration.
a. ^ Methane is a green (i.e. non-toxic) propellant that NASA hopes will reduce transportation costs by being made in space. For instance the Sabatier reaction could be used to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) found on Mars into methane, using either found or transported hydrogen, a catalyst, and a source of heat. Hydrogen can be made from water ice, which occurs on both the Earth's Moon and Mars.
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