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Published on Apr 27, 2011
Today the Morpheus team attempted a hover test under tether. This test was the next incremental step in a series of planned tests leading to free flight. Among previous tests were component tests, subsystem tests, integrated vehicle tests, and in the last week successful strap down engine ignition and firing tests. The particular test today was intended to demonstrate a 40 second engine firing while maintaining altitude of five feet above the tether point. Shortly after ignition the vehicle pitched over and control authority was lost. The multiple redundant thrust termination system (a precursor to the flight termination system) executed and aborted the test. The test team then executed all nominal and contingency procedures required to safe the vehicle. All ground crew had been evacuated to 1000ft well before the test, per procedure.
The team is examining the on-board data and the vehicle hardware to assess the issue or issues as well as reviewing ground procedures. There are a number of ideas and theories but first reports are usually wrong so we won't speculate yet. The vehicle appears to be in good condition and only minor damage to some ground wire and hardware was experienced.
It was a great test and learning experience as expected. We obtained confirmation and a robust test of the thrust termination system, a necessary requirement for proceeding to free flight. We stressed the test team and our ability to manage and control anomalies. We obtained critical GN&C and flight control data to continue building confidence in the system. We achieved another clean start of our in-house built LOX/LCH4 engine. And finally we validated our philosophy of incremental build up and testing under the most controlled conditions possible.
This is exactly why we test. This is exactly why we first test powerful energetic systems under tether.
Finally it must be remembered if you wait to light the engine until you know everything you want to know, there is no longer a need to light the engine...other than to discover you were absolutely wrong that you knew everything.