Masten Space Systems’ Progress on NASA’s Lunar CATALYST Program

Masten rocket, Xodiac, launches out of Mojave Air and Space Port carrying JHU APL electromagnetic field measurement experiment. (Credit: NASA/Ken Ulbrich)

Masten Space Systems is one of three companies NASA has signed agreements with for the Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (Lunar CATALYST) program.

“The purpose of the Lunar CATALYST initiative is for NASA to encourage the development of U.S. private-sector robotic lunar landers capable of successfully delivering small (30 to 100 kg) and medium (250 to 500 kg) class payloads to the lunar surface using U.S. commercial launch capabilities,” the agreement states.

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NASA Extends Lunar CATALYST Agreements with Astrobotic, Masten & Moon Express

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA will continue its partnerships with three U.S. companies that are advancing technologies to deliver cargo payloads to the lunar surface. The partners—Astrobotic Technology, Inc., of Pittsburgh, Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California, and Moon Express of Cape Canaveral, Florida—began work in 2014 under NASA’s Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (Lunar CATALYST) initiative. The original three-year agreements were amended to extend the work for another two years.

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A Look at NASA’s Plans to Explore the Moon

Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

Statement of Jason Crusan
Director, Advanced Exploration Systems Division
Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate
National Aeronautics and Space Administration

before the

Subcommittee on Space
Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
U. S. House of Representatives

SELECTED EXCERPTS

Lunar CATALYST: Promoting Private Sector Robotic Exploration of the Moon

As part of the Agency’s overall strategy to conduct deep space exploration, NASA is also supporting the development of commercial lunar exploration. In 2014, NASA introduced an initiative called Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (CATALYST). The purpose of the initiative is to encourage the development of U.S. private-sector robotic lunar landers capable of successfully delivering payloads to the lunar surface using U.S. commercial launch capabilities.

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Video: Dave Masten Talks 3D Printing Rocket Engines

Video Caption: This week we bring on guest Dave Masten to get an update of the happenings at Masten Space Systems. In addition to an update on the XS-1 project, we also talk about how Dave and crew is using additive manufacturing (3D printing) to create entire rocket engines. Interview starts at 16:59

NASA Space Act Agreements with Virgin Galactic, Moon Express, NanoRacks and More

NASA has released a document listing the 1,206 active Space Act Agreements  (SAAs) the agency has with commercial companies, non-profit organizations and state and local governments.

From that list, I’ve extracted agreements with individual companies. Below you will find tables listing SAAs that NASA has signed with Virgin Group companies, Moon Express and NanoRacks. There is also a fourth table that has SAAs with a number of companies and organizations that we follow on Parabolic Arc.

SAAs come in three varieties: reimburseable, non-reimburseable and funded. Under reimburseable agreements, a company or organization will pay NASA for its services. No money exchanges hands under non-reimburseable agrements. And under funded agreements, NASA pays the company to perform work or provide services. (The space agency made substantial use of SAA’s in the Commercial Crew Program.)

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Masten Achieves First Hot-Fire of Broadsword Rocket Engine

Broadsword 25 hot fire (Credit: Masten Space Systems)

MOJAVE, Calif. (Masten Space Systems PR) – On September 30, 2016, Masten Space Systems successfully concluded the 13-month design, build, and test period for the first development unit of the Broadsword 25 rocket engine, funded as a technology demonstration under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)’s Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program. This first phase of the engine development effort included commissioning Masten’s largest mobile engine test stand and firing of the company’s highest-thrust rocket engine to date.

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Masten Has New Lander Under Construction at NASA Marshall

Masten’s Xaero-B Damaged in Flight Test

Xaero-B in flight (Credit: Masten Space Systems)

Masten Space Systems’ Xaero-B test vehicle was damaged during a flight at the Mojave Air and Space Port last month. The company says it has no plans to repair it at this time.

A source who requested anonymity reports the crash occurred on April 19. The vehicle rose about five to 10 feet off its launch pad, began to pitched over and then fell to the desert floor, the source said.

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Watch Masten’s Xodiac Vehicle Soar

Video Caption: Over the past five weeks, NASA and Masten teams have prepared for and conducted sub-orbital rocket flight tests of next-generation lander navigation technology through the CoOperative Blending of Autonomous Landing Technologies (COBALT) project.

The COBALT payload was integrated onto Masten’s rocket, Xodiac. The Xodiac vehicle used the Global Positioning System (GPS) for navigation during this first campaign, which was intentional to verify and refine COBALT system performance. The joint teams conducted numerous ground verification tests, made modifications in the process, practiced and refined operations’ procedures, conducted three tether tests, and have now flown two successful free flights. This successful, collaborative campaign has provided the COBALT and Xodiac teams with the valuable performance data needed to refine the systems and prepare them for the second flight test campaign this summer when the COBALT system will navigate the Xodiac rocket to a precision landing.

The technologies within COBALT provide a spacecraft with knowledge during entry, descent and landing that enables it to precisely navigate and softly land close to surface locations that have been previously too risky to target with current capabilities. The technologies will enable future exploration destinations on Mars, the moon, Europa, and other planets and moons.

The two primary navigation components within COBALT include the Langley Research Center’s Navigation Doppler Lidar, which provides ultra-precise velocity and line-of-sight range measurements, and Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Lander Vision System, which provides navigation estimates relative to an existing surface map.

The integrated system is being flight tested onboard a Masten Space Systems suborbital rocket vehicle called Xodiac. The COBALT project is led by the Johnson Space Center, with funding provided through the Game Changing Development, Flight Opportunities program, and Advanced Exploration Systems programs.

NASA Precise Landing Technologies Tested on Masten Rocket

Video Caption: NASA is flight testing next-generation lander navigation technology through the CoOperative Blending of Autonomous Landing Technologies (COBALT) project. The technology provides a spacecraft with knowledge during entry, descent and landing that enables it to precisely navigate and softly land close to surface locations that have been previously too risky to target with current capabilities. The technologies will enable future exploration destinations on Mars, the moon, Europa, and other planets and moons.

The two primary navigation components within COBALT include the Langley Research Center’s Navigation Doppler Lidar, which provides ultra-precise velocity and line-of-sight range measurements, and Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Lander Vision System, which provides navigation estimates relative to an existing surface map. The integrated system is being flight tested onboard a Masten Space Systems suborbital rocket vehicle called Xodiac. The COBALT project is led by the Johnson Space Center, with funding provided through the Game Changing Development, Flight Opportunities program, and Advanced Exploration Systems programs.

COBALT free flight tests, or untethered, on the rocket coming soon.

COBALT Flight Demonstrations Fuse Technologies to Gain Precision Landing Results


Team members from the NASA COBALT team and the Masten Xodiac team hold a pre-campaign TIM (Technical Interchange Meeting) to iron out remaining technical hurdles and operations logistics in preparation for the COBALT payload integration onto Xodiac for the open-loop flight testing. The image is taken in the Masten Xodiac hangar, and Xodiac is in the background. The COBALT payload sits atop Xodiac in the empty payload frame. (Credit: NASA)

MOJAVE, Calif. (NASA PR) — Many regions in the solar system beckon for exploration, but they are considered unreachable due to technology gaps in current landing systems. The CoOperative Blending of Autonomous Landing Technologies (COBALT) project, conducted by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate’s (STMD) and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, could change that.

Through a flight campaign this month through April, COBALT will mature and demonstrate new guidance, navigation and control (GN&C) technologies to enable precision landing for future exploration missions.

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NASA Partners With 8 Companies in Spacecraft, Launch Technology

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA is partnering with eight U.S. companies to advance small spacecraft and launch vehicle technologies that are on the verge of maturation and are likely to benefit both NASA and the commercial space market.

These partnerships are the result of a solicitation released in August 2016 by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), titled Utilizing Public-Private Partnerships to Advance Tipping Point Technologies. They mark the second round of public-private opportunities that enable industry to develop promising commercial space technologies that also may benefit future NASA missions.

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The Year Ahead in Space

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

It’s going to be busy year in space in 2017. Here’s a look at what we can expect over the next 12 months.

A New Direction for NASA?

NASA’s focus under the Obama Administration has been to try to commercialize Earth orbit while creating a foundation that would allow the space agency to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.

Whether Mars will remain a priority under the incoming Trump Administration remains to be seen. There is a possibility Trump will refocus the space agency on lunar missions instead.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently viewed as a leading candidate for NASA administrator, has written two blog posts focused on the importance of exploring the moon and developing its resources. Of course, whether Bridenstine will get NASA’s top job is unclear at this time.

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NASA Space Technology Year in Review

Mars 2020 Lander Vision System flight tested aboard a Masten “Xombie” up to 1,066 feet on December 9, 2014 at Mojave Air and Space Port in California. (Credits: NASA Photo / Tom Tschida)
Mars 2020 Lander Vision System flight tested aboard a Masten “Xombie” up to 1,066 feet on December 9, 2014 at Mojave Air and Space Port in California. (Credits: NASA Photo / Tom Tschida)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) is dedicated to pushing the technological envelope, taking on challenges not only to further space agency missions near Earth, but also to sustain future deep space exploration activities.

“In 2016, we completed several major program milestones,” explains Steve Jurczyk, NASA associate administrator for STMD.

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Laser-based Navigation Sensor Could Be Standard for Planetary Landing Missions

Bruce Barnes, who does electronics engineering and system integration for the Navigation Doppler Lidar, makes final preparations to the sensor in a lab at NASA's Langley Research Center. (Credit: NASA/David C. Bowman)
Bruce Barnes, who does electronics engineering and system integration for the Navigation Doppler Lidar, makes final preparations to the sensor in a lab at NASA’s Langley Research Center. (Credit: NASA/David C. Bowman)

HAMPTON, Va. (NASA PR) — A laser-guided navigation sensor that could help future rovers make safe, precise landings on Mars or destinations beyond will soon undergo testing in California’s Mojave Desert.

The Navigation Doppler Lidar, or NDL, which was developed at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, will be flight tested aboard a rocket-powered Vertical Take-off, Vertical Landing (VTVL) platform, named Xodiac, developed by Masten Space Systems, in Mojave, California.

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