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NASA Morpheus Lander Test Ends In Explosion

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the faw-down-go-boom dept.

NASA 237

First time accepted submitter DishpanMan writes "For every success story from NASA like Curiosity, there is a failure story, like today's Morpheus project test flight at Kennedy Space Center. The project is trying to build a low cost Moon and Asteroid lander using clean fuels on a shoestring budget. While tethered flight test were successful, today's actual flight test ended in a crash and a ball of fire followed by a spectacular explosion. Initial feedback points to hardware failure, but the investigation is still ongoing."

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All I can say is... (5, Insightful)

Lord Lode (1290856) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938585)

Waaaw, nice video of the crash! And immediately the action in the first 10 seconds of it. Well done!

Too bad for the money and work that went into it. But then again, this is what tests are for, this result helps progress forward as well.

Obviously it wasn't the One (4, Funny)

Narrowband (2602733) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938641)

But then, they can name the next lander "Neo" and see if they get better results...

Re:Obviously it wasn't the One (4, Funny)

CommieLib (468883) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938885)

That means that their second and third attempts will be absolutely #$(*#& horrible.

Re:Obviously it wasn't the One (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40939091)

Neo only became "The One" after he died as was foretold.

Re:All I can say is... (1)

jhoegl (638955) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938647)

I am wondering why they dont put in kill switches to the fuel. Seems a waste of materials, as well as a tougher time finding out what happened.

Re:All I can say is... (4, Insightful)

jordanjay29 (1298951) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938727)

Even if they did, the craft was untethered and they'd have no way to safely land it after killing the engine. So you'd wind up with a damaged vehicle, anyways, and there's a good chance that it would have exploded anyways. The craft only caught on fire after it crashed, not during the test firing itself, and the explosion was due to the fire reaching the fuel tanks.

I really don't see how a kill switch would help them save money, and would probably just cost them more for useless expenditures.

Re:All I can say is... (1)

jhoegl (638955) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939327)

A gimbal based kill-switch would have prevented fuel from getting to the rocket engine had it detected a flipover.

Re:All I can say is... (5, Insightful)

plover (150551) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938765)

?

You can put in a kill switch to the fuel pump to not pump more fuel into the rocket motor, and they no doubt have such devices installed. But the tanks are already full of all the fuel the vehicle will ever carry. And you can't put in a kill switch for the existence of the fuel. Once the thing is burning, any fuel remaining in the tanks is going to get out one way or another, regardless of any switches or valves.

Re:All I can say is... (3, Informative)

domulys (1431537) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938697)

Make sure to stay tuned at least through 2:00, there's a nice fireworks display.

Re:All I can say is... (4, Informative)

DishpanMan (2487234) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938753)

And at 6:21 there is a second explosion. It's like 4th of July when the fuel and oxidizer tank reach their flash point!

Re:All I can say is... (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40939349)

It's like 4th of July

Unless you're in San Diego; there you'd get at most a few seconds between the explosions.

Re:All I can say is... (1)

Aereus (1042228) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938793)

There's another nice explosion at the 6:24 mark followed by a few more pops right afterwards of the rest of the fuel tanks going off in succession.

Re:All I can say is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40938953)

Yeah.... I can't find anything online regarding tank construction, but I assume all those sparks are bits of carbon fiber. Anyone can confirm?

"We have to expect this sort of thing"... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40938815)

And yet it took more than 8 minutes for the Fire truck to arrive at the rocket test site.

I wonder how long it would take if they didn't expect this sort of thing...

Re:"We have to expect this sort of thing"... (1)

trout007 (975317) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938889)

The KSC firefighters are currently on strike.

Re:"We have to expect this sort of thing"... (1)

DishpanMan (2487234) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938969)

Fire-fighters show up at 8:30 after crash. Is 8 minutes good for response time? It does seem awfully slow, especially considering that they had to have been on standby just in case of something like this happening.

Re:"We have to expect this sort of thing"... (5, Insightful)

Un pobre guey (593801) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939073)

Why would anyone want to approach a burning spacecraft? Let the fuel burn out, then extinguish the flames of what's left for disposal.

Re:"We have to expect this sort of thing"... (3, Funny)

icebike (68054) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939139)

Fire-fighters show up at 8:30 after crash. Is 8 minutes good for response time? It does seem awfully slow, especially considering that they had to have been on standby just in case of something like this happening.

Then another 7 minutes to put it out. Very stubborn fire.

Bob, I'm going to go ahead and ask you to move our helium tanks a little further away. And don't forget that laptop on the chair. That would be terrific, OK?

Re:"We have to expect this sort of thing"... (1)

jaca44 (2557600) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939553)

Yeah! Make sure you move the highly reactive He!! :/

Re:"We have to expect this sort of thing"... (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939791)

No, leave that stuff there, just move the 2500 psi tanks further back.

Re:"We have to expect this sort of thing"... (4, Insightful)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939433)

Well if they'd shown up immediately, then after 2:00 the second team would have been scraping firefighter parts off the scenery. And so, after 6:21, would the third team.

There's just no way to get a burning rocket fuel tank under control. Also no point; the craft is a loss anyway, and there's nothing else close enough to be in danger.

Re:All I can say is... (5, Funny)

msauve (701917) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938853)

Well, this is what happens when you countdown 5...4...3...2...0! Things get confused.

Re:All I can say is... (1)

gewalker (57809) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939307)

Missing semi-colon on line 42327 of avoidcrash.c, they should have use lint.

Re:All I can say is... (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938897)

I wonder if this means that the project has been....put to sleep.

Re:All I can say is... (1)

WillDraven (760005) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938961)

I think the saddest thing about this video is that Kennedy Space Center had to call 911 and wait 9 minutes for a fire engine to arrive to put out the flames. I guess it shows how much budget they've lost that NASA doesn't have their own emergency response teams for things like this.

Re:All I can say is... (1)

mapsjanhere (1130359) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939225)

Kennedy Space Center is HUGE. The starting pads are a long way from the service areas (in case of a really huge boom), so 8 min sounds about right to make it out there. The roads don't allow much more than about 60 mph.

Re:All I can say is... (1)

Brian Feldman (350) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939321)

Not to mention that no one's life should be threatened in this particular situation... because people are free to move away from the fire.

Unless there is a compelling reason... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40939727)

...to endanger fire crews, the best way to put out a fire like that is to wait and then hose down the remains.

Re:All I can say is... (0)

cheesybagel (670288) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938973)

Next time NASA should use a tether. That would likely have saved the vehicle. It seemed like a GNC failure to me. The engine worked fine since the vehicle was propelled upwards, but then it tilted to the right. It could also have tilted because the propellant was sloshing around in the tanks or something like that.

Re:All I can say is... (2)

icebike (68054) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939185)

Next time NASA should use a tether. That would likely have saved the vehicle. It seemed like a GNC failure to me. The engine worked fine since the vehicle was propelled upwards, but then it tilted to the right. It could also have tilted because the propellant was sloshing around in the tanks or something like that.

Gee, why didn't THEY think of that..... [youtube.com]

Re:All I can say is... (1)

Darinbob (1142669) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939109)

Followed by 7 minutes of it burning and 3 minutes of them putting it out. Viewers should just stop after the first 10 seconds.

Re:All I can say is... (1)

GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939309)

That's my view of the Matrix sequels too.

Re:All I can say is... (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939395)

The best explosion is at 6:20.

I aim for the stars (5, Funny)

gelfling (6534) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938593)

Sometimes I hit the parking lot.

Re:I aim for the stars (1)

sconeu (64226) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938877)

I though it was "But sometimes hit London"

Re:I aim for the stars (2)

gelfling (6534) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939493)

This wasn't as successful as von Braun.

Some say this "Morpheus" is the most dangerous... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40938595)

...Lander alive!

Hey, first post! What do you know?

That's what happens.. (1)

wbr1 (2538558) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938627)

....when NASA is run on a $200/month budget. {END JOKE 1}

or

....you name your vehicle after a Matrix character. {END JOKE 2}

Re:That's what happens.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40938975)

....when NASA is run on a $200/month budget.

Seriously! That looks like something some 15 year old whipped up in his Mom's basement from balsa wood, aluminum foil, duct tape, some model rocket engines and a crate of stolen fireworks then lit it off at the school baseball diamond!

Poof!!! No eyebrows.

you get what you pay for--granted unlimited time (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40938649)

Morpheus: to build a low cost Moon and Asteroid lander using clean fuels on a shoestring budget.
Curiosity: Mars landing, high dollar, big budget, traditional components (similar to previous Mars Landers), unlimited time.

I guess one could conclude "faster, better, cheaper" doesn't work in NASA's case?

Re:you get what you pay for--granted unlimited tim (1)

SydShamino (547793) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939097)

Spirit and Opportunity were both "faster, better, cheaper" concept vehicles that did amazingly well, so your conclusion based on just one point of data would be wrong. At this point I don't think there's enough data to make any conclusions about the project's value.

Re:you get what you pay for--granted unlimited tim (2)

Zephyn (415698) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939137)

As always, the only honest answer is "Pick two."

Not sure I would categorize this as a "Failure" (5, Insightful)

mykepredko (40154) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938659)

A "Failure" means loss of the mission. This is an unsuccessful test and is part of the process to ensure the hardware will work with a high degree of confidence so that the mission won't "fail" in its actual landing on the moon.

Something to learn from and move forwards on.

myke

Re:Not sure I would categorize this as a "Failure" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40939039)

Yeah, but given certain congresscritters are eagerly drooling over any reason they can think of to drain NASA's budget (not to mention not very bright when it comes to science), every unsuccessful test is another flimsy "ZOMG LOOK AT TEHM WASTING TAXPAYER MONIES!!!1!" excuse the suits in Washington can use against them...

Re:Not sure I would categorize this as a "Failure" (1)

buybuydandavis (644487) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939053)

Thank you. Saved me the trouble.

Re:Not sure I would categorize this as a "Failure" (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939217)

Yeah, if this was a failure then every time you write code that fails one of the unit tests during development that must be a failure too. That'll be a lot of fail.

Re:Not sure I would categorize this as a "Failure" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40939303)

every time you write code that fails one of the unit tests during development that must be a failure too.

I have trouble disagreeing with this part... when some fails, we call it a failure.

The OP can say this is an unsuccessful test and not a failure with a bit more authority, but in both cases, it is just quibbling over semantics.

Re:Not sure I would categorize this as a "Failure" (4, Funny)

Len (89493) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939399)

Well I'm not sure, but my guess is that several of the test objectives did not get checked off.

Flames (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40938679)

Damn that fire just refused to go out, didn't it? Also the second explosion at 6:22 was Michael Bay worthy...

Last message sent by the onboard computer: (5, Funny)

meglon (1001833) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938687)

"This is the Captain. There's a little problem with our entry sequence; we may experience slight turbulence and then explode."

Re:Last message sent by the onboard computer: (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40939157)

The TV series was nice but that movie sucked.

Screwed-up countdown a bad omen (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40938695)

"5...4...3...2...0" BOOM!

NASA can't count anymore? Increase their funding! (2)

BMOC (2478408) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938835)

That was kinda silly actually, and yes... a bad omen.

Re:Screwed-up countdown a bad omen (2)

slashmydots (2189826) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938891)

That was exactly the conclusion I came up to as well. Newton's 144th law of motion states that if you skip a number in the countdown, the device will crash and explode. It's a concept known as "jinxing" lol.

Precedent (2, Funny)

mj1856 (589031) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939001)

King Arthur: One, two, five!
Sir Galahad: Three sir!
King Arthur: THREE!

Re:Precedent (2)

Zephyn (415698) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939155)

And that also ended with a large explosion.

Failure is the norm (5, Insightful)

pubwvj (1045960) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938699)

"For every success story from NASA like Curiosity, there is a failure story"

Yes, and if you never try you'll never fail. Bravo for you.

Those of us who explore and push the boundaries do have failures, learn (if we live) and try again. Failure is the norm. Success is the wonderful exception.

Re:Failure is the norm (1)

DishpanMan (2487234) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938827)

That's true, which is what makes successful missions like Curiosity really amazing. The number of things that can go wrong in rocket science is "astronomical", and people tend to take for granted successful missions like the shuttle, ISS and Mars missions. Footage like this, news about the Russian Proton launch failure Monday, and others really put things in perspective on how hard it is to pull off rocket science in real lfe.

Re:Failure is the norm (1)

kubernet3s (1954672) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938861)

no cuz hurrdurr SpaceX

Re:Failure is the norm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40939181)

Seriously. In engineering whenever you push the limits you *have* to fail. This is what tests are for. This is not failure - it is data.

Re:Failure is the norm (1)

Lando (9348) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939577)

Wouldn't this be considered a successful test? I mean it would only be a failure if everything went perfectly and they felt confident to send the system out into space where it failed. This way at least they know there are still issues.

Re:Failure is the norm (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40939583)

Those of us who explore and push the boundaries do have failures

I love how you're some dork who posts dozens of times per day to Slashdot, and yet you lump yourself in with NASA researchers as an explorer.

Protip: people "who explore and push the boundaries" don't have hundreds of posts to a website that is mostly for rationalizing piracy and complaining about people who don't 'get' technology.

Who knew... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40938709)

I didn't know something so small could be *that* on fire.

Re:Who knew... (1)

jakimfett (2629943) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939207)

I believe I must quote you, my good sir/madam. This is funny, and causes me to lol.

Re:Who knew... (1)

jd2112 (1535857) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939717)

I didn't know something so small could be *that* on fire.

Sounds like someone exiting the restroom at the local Mexican place after eating the habenjero special ...

That was almost comical (3, Funny)

sandytaru (1158959) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938729)

It looks as though the thrust was really unbalanced; it just sort of wobbled in the air before keeling over. I shouldn't have laughed... but I did.

Call 911 (1)

valentinas (2692229) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938739)

Did I hear it correctly, around 0:23 in video someone says "Pam, call 911"?

Re:Call 911 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40938863)

If so, it's probably a code for "things have gone bad" instead of a literal instruction.

Re:Call 911 (1)

amoeba1911 (978485) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938865)

Yes, that is indeed what they said.

Re:Call 911 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40939491)

Possibly an internal 911; at my old university a 911 call would go to campus security.

6:23 (1)

pak9rabid (1011935) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938771)

well worth the fast-forward =D

Another one flew successfully (2)

savuporo (658486) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938773)

There is another ( well actually there is a third one as well ) less publicized lander project at NASA, check out the flight videos at http://nasa.gov/roboticlander [nasa.gov]
Coincidentally, it just did a successful untethered test flight today, see http://twitter.com/nasamightyeagle [twitter.com]

Re:Another one flew successfully (2)

savuporo (658486) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938795)

Sorry, .gov webmasters .. the correct link is http://www.nasa.gov/roboticlander [nasa.gov]

The real test was a success. (3, Funny)

gooman (709147) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938867)

Congratulations everyone!
We have discovered a folding chair that will hold up while watching failed test flights.
Order a hundred and we can sell tickets for the next launch.

Next test: Goggles for the enjoying the view at the 2:00 and 6:20 mark.

Wait, what? (5, Informative)

glwtta (532858) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938871)

An unsuccessful test isn't "failure", it's "data".

Re:Wait, what? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40939145)

An unsuccessful test isn't "failure", it's "unsuccessful".

FTFY

Re:Wait, what? (1)

Lando (9348) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939293)

Hmmm, it's almost like it's rocket science and they don't expect it to be perfect the first time through so they run tests. I agree not really news, just some more data.

Re:Wait, what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40939365)

Cue the Apollo rocket tests played with the Benny Hill theme song. I would normally think that it's sad that tests are looked at as failures, but in this case I will blame the slashdot editors.

Come on! Lots of us are engineers....

fuck u socilist faggits (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40938903)

taxpayer money stealers

"Pam, call 911" (1)

madcarrots (308916) | more than 2 years ago | (#40938923)

I love that they were ready (by the phone) for any emergency situation.

Sympathy card from North Korea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40938945)

USA, we understand how you feel right now. You need to whip your workers a little harder, and remember food is a powerful motivator.

-Kim

reinventing the wheel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40939007)

If only we had some sort of design and technology that has been used sucessfully for a moon landing we could modernise...

Better for the environment... (1)

tlambert (566799) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939083)

On the moon. And on the asteroids. Safer for the chipmunks living there. Good thing they are using cleaner fuels.

Re:Better for the environment... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40939357)

On the moon. And on the asteroids. Safer for the chipmunks living there. Good thing they are using cleaner fuels.

...and an amazing bargain at only 50x the cost of regular, reliable fuel!

Re:Better for the environment... (1)

trout007 (975317) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939505)

It's not just they are cleaner but we can easily make these fuels on Mars.

Crash, ball of fire, *spectacular* explosion ... (4, Interesting)

hey! (33014) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939115)

I'm still waiting for the "failure" part.

Compromises (1)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939117)

The moment you start engineering in compromises -- e.g. Clean Fuels -- into the design you are setting yourself up for less than optimal results.

Re:Compromises (1)

trout007 (975317) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939389)

The real reason for using this fuel an oxidizer is because they can be made on mars.

Re:Compromises (2)

Lando (9348) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939549)

No.

First off, are you agreeing with the caption that this is a failure? It isn't it's testing to get data. So it blew up, no biggy it's data one more datum of information that says not all the kinks are worked out. Which brings us to

Point two. This isn't engineering, this is working with new designs that have not been completely tested, which by definition is science. You don't expect everything to go perfectly when you attempt something because you don't know what all the variables are and you are looking for information. If you weren't looking for information, then that would be engineering, and you wouldn't bother to test it to see if it would work. In which case, the boom would be on the moon not at a testing facility.

Furthermore, This is being built on a shoestring, ie low cost, budget, which means they aren't going to book supercomputer time, build a bunch of prototypes, build redundancy systems, etc. There is an understanding that there will be a greater chance of error in the system, but for the cost of a expensive 99% mission, they can send a lot more of these missions. Which means even if you have a few failures, you still have a better overall chance of success.

Using clean fuels is not sub-optimal, it's just a constraint on the system. Just like any other constraint, you deal with it and figure out what to do. Of course, removing a building with sledgehammers, explosives, cutting restraints, is harder than setting off a thermonuclear bomb, but I don't really consider the results suboptimal, just one of the constraints on the system that other buildings in the neighborhood should still be standing at the end of the project is just one of the constraints.

Re:Compromises (3, Informative)

EmperorArthur (1113223) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939671)

Three words.
Mars Semi Direct. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WppRQQld10&feature=list_other&playnext=1&list=SP48ECECA63832ACC7 [youtube.com]
This is the first step to creating a return vehicle that can fuel itself from some stored Hydrogen and the CO2 in the Martian atmosphere.

Also, the ISS " produces – and dumps – enough methane waste gas each year to fill the Morpheus fuel tanks." http://www.nasa.gov/centers/johnson/exploration/morpheus/morpheus_test_stennis.html [nasa.gov]

That's why it's a test (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40939141)

I imagine they'll figure out what went wrong. I bet this didn't cost $2+ billion. That's why you do tests like this. Better to make a $10 million fireball on Earth someplace, then spend a few years waiting for a $2 billion fireball on some other planet.

YEAH, RIGHT (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40939213)

So basically if I'm not wrong it means that it didn't work properly, right? I'm gonna eat a pizza, I'm tired.

Due to budget constraints (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40939485)

They were testing lithobraking as a possible landing technique.

Right... (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939535)

Okay, so there was a crash and an explosion?

Initial feedback points to hardware failure

D'you think?

Re:Right... (1)

nitehawk214 (222219) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939579)

Okay, so there was a crash and an explosion?

Initial feedback points to hardware failure

D'you think?

Presumably this means the hardware failed sometime before the crash and explosion.

A low cost lander using clean fuels? (1)

DRJlaw (946416) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939573)

Such as, LOX/LH2?

It would be nice if the fuel and the reason why was specified in the summary. I can only image that it has something to do with expansion rations [wikipedia.org] versus LH2, although I'm not sure how liquid methane (thankfully called-out in the linked Morpheus page) represents a vast improvement. If you can use kerosene, you can use alcohols [nih.gov] , which are much much more biodegradable and don't have nearly the greenhouse gas power of methane.

Re:A low cost lander using clean fuels? (2)

confused one (671304) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939749)

It's vs kerosene... Methane maintains the highest ratio of hydrogen to carbon, is a readily available hydrocarbon, and is safer and easier to store and transfer than LH2. If you're looking to do refueling in space, CH4 is easier to maintain for long periods of time than LH2, which has to be maintained at much lower temperatures.

it all ended... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40939653)

with the big bang

Maybe I'm just New to Rocket Surgery (1)

Crypto Gnome (651401) | more than 2 years ago | (#40939747)

But I was surprised to hear the countdown skiping the ONE and going straight to (ie launch).
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