NASA spacecraft crashes, burns during test flight

Prototype moon lander crashes at Kennedy Space Center

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Project Morpheus, a prototype NASA spacecraft, crashed and burned during a test flight at Kennedy Space Center.

Morpheus -- named after the Greek god of dreams -- lifted off the ground during a free-flight test on Thursday but experienced a hardware component failure, preventing it from maintaining stable flight, NASA said.  The spacecraft then crashed to the ground and burst into flames.

No one was injured, and the fire was extinguished by KSC fire personnel. NASA said the lander was likely a total loss and it was valued at $555,000. Some of the more expensive equipment wasn't on the lander.

"We anticipated the potential for this type of scenario so we had a second vehicle in work, we have spare components," said Jon Olansen, Morpheus project manager.

NASA engineers are looking into the incident and they say something with the navigation system may have had something to do with the navigation system.

"So like I said we look forward to learning from what happened today and preparing ourselves for future testing," Olansen said.

Morpheus features a lot of experiment technology, including new green propellant propulsion systems and autonomous landing and hazard detection technology. The project has a budget of less than $7 million over less than three years.

Earlier this week, an engine on Morpheus automatically shut down shortly after igniting, aborting a first attempt at a free flight.

The flight was one of more than a dozen planned over the next several months by the Johnson Space Center-based Project Morpheus. It follows 20 tethered tests, with the vehicle suspended from a crane, including one last Friday shortly after Morpheus' arrival at KSC.

The small Morpheus team is developing an engine powered by liquid oxygen and liquid methane, a non-toxic fuel that could offer advantages for a lander or in-space propulsion system.  NASA was considering it as a potential lander for places like the moon or an asteroid.

Morpheus measured 10 feet in diameter and weighed about 2,300 pounds without fuel.  It's one of 20 projects in NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems program, part of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.

Copyright 2012 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.