Today, Masten Space Systems conducted a flight test of Xaero to 1 km altitude with the intention of testing flight controls at higher ascent and descent velocities. Our test objectives were met and initial results show the vehicle performed better than expected at altitude. However, the vehicle was lost during final approach to landing, and the initial cause appears to be a throttle valve failure. The most important thing is that our team is safe and with the data from this test, we expect to be flying again soon!
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A source said oscillations developed about three quarters of the way through descent. The engine began firing left and right in an effort to provide stability. The Xaero increased in altitude and nearly stabilized. Oscillations became severe during descent and the vehicle aborted, dumping its fuel and oxidizer. Xaero then crashed into the desert floor a safe distance from the command site.
UPDATE: The Los Angeles Times reports:
The vehicle’s on-board computers appeared to attempt to steady the rocket. But while it was aloft the company said it shut off the liquid oxygen-fueled engine. The 967-pound white rocket tumbled to the ground, creating a massive fire ball that enveloped the small launch pad.
According to NASA’s Flight Opportunities website:
Xaero is a reconfiguration from the Xoie platform that won Level II of the Lunar Lander Challenge. The company expects Xaero to begin higher altitude and higher speed flights in the fourth quarter of 2011. Xaero is expected to be able to carry a 10 kg payload to approximately 30 kilometers (or 100,000 feet) according to current models with higher masses at lower altitudes or shorter flight durations.