Masten gets halfway there

I was in Mojave this morning to see Masten Space Systems make their first attempt to claim second prize of Level One of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. (I didn’t make a special trip to California to see it; I was already in the area to attend the AIAA Space 2009 conference in Pasadena and spent this morning in Mojave instead of some conference sessions, although it meant leaving the hotel before 4 am in order to be in Mojave in time for a 5:30 am safety briefing.) The good news is that they flew a successful first leg of Level 1 with their XA-0.1B “Xombie” vehicle. The vehicle spent 93 seconds in the air, 3 more than the minimum, and landed very prcisely, with an accuracy later reported to be just under 20 cm.

The bad news was that there was a problem with the engine: a glitch in the cooling system caused some damage to the engine chamber and, instead of risking further damaging the engine and perhaps losing the vehicle, they elected not to make the return flight. They do have two more flight opportunities in October, and believe they’ll have new engine chambers ready to go by then to make another attempt.

You’d think the team might be a little down because they couldn’t make a complete Level 1 flight, but instead they seemed quite satisfied with the effort. Note that this was only the second free flight for Xombie, and the first was just late Tuesday afternoon. This flight was also much higher and longer than yesterday’s, and other than the engine problem everything went well.

I took some photos of the flight and will get some up this evening (I’m back at the conference for the remainder of the day), along with any additional notes. I suspect soon Masten and/or X PRIZE will also have some photos and videos of the flight posted online.

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