The Xombie suborbital rocket, built by Masten Space Systems, underwent a successful test flight, serving as a test bed for a new navigational system that NASA hopes that would be used for landings on other worlds, according to Space.com.
The test flight took place on February 2 at a launch facility in the California desert, near NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center. The navigational system is called the Guidance Embedded Navigator Integration Environment (GENIE), built by Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, Mass. The flight was conducted under NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program.
What is the Guidance Embedded Navigator Integration Environment?
GENIE is a system that would allow a space probe to land autonomously on an alien world, such as the moon or Mars, automatically avoiding hazards such as boulders and other obstructions. GENIE was created by Draper Labs in a joint project with the Johnson Spaceflight Center’s Morpheus lander project.
What is the Xombie?
Xombie is a vertical takeoff and landing rocket created by Masten Space Systems. Previously, the Xombie won second place in the lunar lander simulator Centennial Challenge in October, 2009, according to NASA. The Xombie uses liquid oxygen and isopropyl alcohol as propellants in an engine built of aluminum. Subsequently Xombie demonstrated the capacity to shut off its engine while in flight and then reignite it to come down for a safe landing, according to Masten.
What is the Flight Opportunities Program?
NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program uses commercially available suborbital craft to serve as test beds for technology development and to launch payloads into suborbital flight. Besides Masten, Virgin Galactic, Armadillo Aerospace, and XCOR are recipients of Flight Opportunities funding. NASA also envisions the use of high altitude balloons and parabolic aircraft to test space technologies. It is expected that the use of commercially available vehicles will enable NASA to rapidly and inexpensively conduct flight tests. According to NASA, a number of technology demonstrators have already been chosen for flights on suborbital rockets.
How did the test flight go?
The Xombie rocket rose 50 meters into the air, moved sideways 50 meters, and then successfully landed. The flight took 67 seconds.
What about the future?
The flight of the Xombie is just the first test flight that NASA hopes will enable the creation of a new generation of landing vehicles that can explore the moons, planets, and asteroids of the solar system. Future flights will test various technologies in suborbital jaunts before they are used on deep space missions.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo and The Last Moonwalker. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.