MSS-Xombie_224x300.jpgMojave, California – September 21, 2009 – Masten Space Systems successfully demonstrated multiple sustained free flights of its XA-0.1B vertical take-off, vertical landing (VTVL) rocket this past week. The longest flight was 93 seconds and involved a flight between two pads 60 meters apart. This marks the first time a purely rocket powered VTVL has flown from Mojave Air and Space Port.

“The flight was absolutely beautiful! The control systems were designed to control the vehicle to high accuracy, and worked. We landed within a few inches of the target. That’s pretty amazing considering the vehicle is balanced on top of a plume of burning alcohol,” Masten Space Systems CEO David Masten said. “It feels great watching something work exactly the way you designed it to work.”

XA-0.1B, or “Xombie” as it is called by the team, uses an internally developed flight control system using readily available commercial components. “The rocket tilt to start the translation seemed to have caught the crowd by surprise! While we weren’t able to test all the flight details under the tether, the control system worked exactly as expected,” said Flight Controls Engineer Ian Garcia. Since May the vehicle had been flying short test flights tethered to a crane for safety.

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 it over 810 pounds. Inspection of the vehicle after the flight revealed minor damage to the thrust chamber that prevented further flights that day. “We have a good handle on the problem and we’re already working on a fix,” said propulsion engineer Jonathan Goff. “We should be back in the air in a week or so.”

Last week’s flights were part of the Masten team’s first attempt at winning the NASA funded Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge Level 1 competition. The Challenge is to fly two flights between two pads at least 50 meters apart. The flight time between each pad must be at least 90 seconds. Even though the first leg appeared flawless, the team decided that, though the engine damage appeared minor, it was better to use one of the scheduled Challenge dates in October to try again.

“Completing these milestones puts the company squarely on track for high altitude commercial flights starting in 2010. If you are interested in flying with us, now is the time to get the ball rolling,” said Michael Mealling, Vice President of Business Development. “Along with our recent DARPA SBIR contract, this flight signals the start of a new phase of our business.”

In addition to flying “Xombie,” the Masten team is assembling and testing another vehicle – XA0.1E – for attempts at the Level Two Challenge in October. XA0.1E, nicknamed “Xoie”, is lighter and has larger propellant tanks for the additional flight time required for Level Two. After the Challenge season is over, Xoie will be used for high altitude flight tests. “Ultimately, we are looking to open up the final frontier by making space travel as safe, simple, and ubiquitous as flying. This is just one small step on that path.”

Masten Makes First Untethered Flights