Masten Space Systems successfully qualified for first place in Level Two of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge Wednesday. Flying a brand new vehicle named XA-0.1E (nicknamed Xoie), Masten demonstrated their ability to build, debug and fly a vehicle on a very short timeline.
â€œTo come from not flying at all last year to qualifying for level one AND level two of the LLC this year shows how far our technology has progressed,â€ Masten Space Systems CEO David Masten said. â€œAfter a short vacation we will start modifying Xoie for commercial payloads and begin work on Xoieâ€™s successor.â€
Xoie is a larger, lightweight version of Mastenâ€™s Level One vehicle Xombie and features an aluminum structure, larger tanks and a more powerful engine. Originally designed for only 750 pounds of thrust, Xoieâ€™s engine produces over 1000 pounds of thrust.
â€œOur engines go to 11! Now we go build the 2500 pound version,â€ stated MSS propulsion engineer Jonathan Goff. A visibly exhausted but happy Ian Garcia, guidance engineer, said, â€œWe wrote our flight control system from scratch and it just does what I tell it to do! Making it work for supersonic flight is going to be a fun challenge.â€
Mastenâ€™s qualification flight came at the final Lunar Lander Challenge flight window on Friday morning. During previous windows on Wednesday and Thursday the vehicle experienced communications and plumbing issues. After a small fire on Thursday afternoon the team spent most of the night engineering a solution to a small leak. The solution worked and the team successfully flew the required profile on Friday morning.
â€œWe are now working with interested parties to begin payload integration for low altitude commercial flights in early 2010,â€ said Michael Mealling, Vice President of Business Development. â€œIf you want to book space on our early commercial flights the time to do that is now. Weâ€™re seeing significant interest from research scientists, companies looking to increase their Technology Readiness Levels, and aerospace systems companies building unique quality assurance techniques.â€
Recently, the Department of Defense awarded Masten Space Systems a Small Business Innovation and Research (SBIR) contract to use its vehicles as a network communications testbed.
â€œWe are building up a good head of steam. Next year is going to be full of bigger, faster, and higher,â€ said Masten. â€œWinning contests is fun, but we wonâ€™t rest until weâ€™re flying a fleet of vehicles into space carrying all sorts of commercial payloads.â€