How would you answer if someone asked who Morpheus was? A guy in the Matrix? How about the Greek god of dreams? That’s closer to the Morpheus that is being tested most recently at the Kennedy Space Center. Rising to a height of 580 feet and traveling 837 feet at 30 mph and then setting down gently. The oxygen and methane propelled Morpheus is NASA’s autonomous, reusable, rocket-powered, terrestrial vertical take-off and landing vehicle that will no doubt be invaluable on the surface of the Moon, or look ahead to the surface of Mars, other planetary explorations or even an asteroid.
It sounds so simple when you think about it. It goes up; it comes down, nothing to it. Not true. In depth consideration is given to the surroundings it will encounter. Those surrounding will differ greatly from the Moon to Mars to wherever else we explore. It will be carrying a humanoid robot or a rover or perhaps a propellant lab to a lunar landing or perchance be involved in a propellant transfer in Earth’s orbit, maybe a rendezvous with an asteroid. Sure the difference to the atmospheres alone affects the needs of the thrust and trajectories, but there’s more. The key ability in Morpheus is its autonomous precision landing and hazard avoidance – no control from Earth or NASA. Decisions need to be made on the fly (literally) and situations may not tolerate communication delays. This means it must identify a safe landing site al on its own; a landing site that is free from large boulders, rocks, other sorts of debris, and craters.
On March 12th the FF9 test was successfully completed. While the test itself was at Kennedy Space Center Morpheus has also been tested at the Johnson Space Center mostly where it was designed and developed. Actually it has a lot of aunts and uncles. Other NASA centers, commercial entities, and academic institutions have supported its development and its testing.
So what is next for Morpheus? To integrate the ALHAT sensors: the sensors responsible for identifying the best terrain for a safe landing.
Think about it. Many of past missions to Mars have utilized bouncy air bags – now, an actual lander. Who is the Greek god for Dreams realized?