NASA Selects Masten for Moon Delivery

MOJAVE, CA, November 29 – Masten Space Systems has been awarded NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) IDIQ contract vehicle to deliver payloads to the lunar service. CLPS is a multi-award contract worth $2.6B over the duration of its 10 year performance period. The contract funds launch, landing, and lunar surface systems with first missions targeted as early as 2021.

“We are eager to apply our capability-driven approach refined over the last decade as we go to the lunar surface,” said Sean Mahoney, CEO of Masten Space Systems. “We are eager to work with NASA to enable new business models that will unlock the potential of the cislunar economy and enable humans to return to the moon.”

Masten’s XL-1 robotic lander concept has been developed in partnership with NASA’s Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (CATALYST) program over the last five years. XL-1 is a spacecraft featuring two payload bays and has the capability to deliver 100kg of payload mass to the lunar surface. XL-1 will be put on a translunar injection by a larger launch vehicle and once in lunar orbit will fire its four main engines to autonomously descend into a soft touchdown at a predetermined location on the lunar surface.

Since its 2009 win of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander XChallenge, funded by NASA’s Centennial Challenges program, Masten has been developing and iterating space transportation systems. Masten has engineered and flown 5 rocket powered landers collectively completing over 600 vertical landings. Those flights have demonstrated numerous precision landing and hazard avoidance hardware and software technologies in partnership with NASA, the Jet Propulsion Lab, and multiple commercial companies.

Today, the Masten and NASA team collaborating under the CATALYST program is integrating and nearing testing of XL-1T, a terrestrial demonstrator which serves as a precursor to Masten’s XL-1 lunar lander. With detailed design of XL-1 already underway, Masten expects have a developed landing capability by 2021 and anticipates being among the first on the lunar surface.

The work pursued through CATALYST has been imperative for maturing key technologies of Masten's lunar lander, XL-1. Since 2014, Masten and NASA have been working together on designing, building, and testing subsystem components for XL-1. In 2019, Masten will be testing the hardware and software developed under CATALYST on our newest reusable flight vehicle, XL-1T, which will act as a terrestrial testbed for our lunar lander.

“We’re excited to be selected under the CLPS program and we are ready to build a lunar lander,” said Dave Masten, CTO and founder of Masten Space Systems. “It’s time to go back to stay.”

About Masten Space Systems

Masten Space Systems is a private company founded in 2004 by CTO David Masten. The company develops innovative rocket technologies and is driven by the goal of lowering the barriers to space access. Masten Space Systems is based in Mojave, CA.

If you would like more information about this topic, please visit www.masten.aero or email info@masten.aero.

Masten Achieves First Hot-Fire of Broadsword Rocket Engine

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Mojave, CA – 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.

The Broadsword 25 is a liquid oxygen- and liquid methane-propelled rocket engine with a full-throttle sea-level thrust rating of 25,000 lbf. Masten initiated development of the Broadsword in August 2015, as a cost-effective reusable engine suitable for use in both boost and upper-stage applications.

Broadsword employs a novel dual-expander cycle, which allows high efficiency at sea level while maintaining the benign turbomachinery conditions characteristic of traditional expander cycle engines. It is made primarily via additive manufacturing, or “3D printing”—a technology that enables complex design geometries, reduces part count by an order of magnitude, and compresses manufacturing times, all of which enable rapid engine development.

The goal of this initial hot-fire test campaign comprised ignition and startup sequence development. The effort concluded with demonstrating six successful engine starts. Masten has subsequently begun the design and build of a second development unit, incorporating lessons learned during manufacturing and testing, and plans to proceed with main-stage hot-fire testing in the next phase.

Masten aims to continue Broadsword development over the course of 2017 and 2018 in collaboration with NASA under the Tipping Point program, and anticipates moving into flight qualification after the conclusion of that effort.

For additional information regarding availability and pricing, please contact sales@masten.aero

For all other inquiries, please contact us via info@masten.aero

 

 

DISTRIBUTION STATEMENT A. Approved for public release. Distribution is unlimited.

Whats the Point?

That is a question that comes up from time to time when people see Xaero-B and Xodiac. Both vehicles seem to be doing what other rocket companies have already *demonstrated* and to greater lengths at that. The underlying premise of the question is this: you are not seeing anything that hasn't already been done. And there is some truth to that on the surface, the VTVL part is not any different. It is in this perception of us vs them that the question sort of belies the real activity at hand.

Developing rocket technology is more than a skin deep proposition.

So to frame this conversation and to add some early perspective into it, one thing to be considered is that Xaero-B and Xodiac are technology demonstrators. With this write-up, we want to share some insight on why people come to Masten for flight testing while also shedding some light on the 1s and 0s of what you can’t see that makes it all possible.

For a hardware and software developer, it [the why test with Masten?] is usually a matter of very focused resource allocations and the cost of building a rocket-powered test bed just may not fit the budget or longer-term need. Those developers whether individuals, research groups, academia or a government agency have a need to prove out and or advance the TRL of what they have. Either through direct funding or with some help from a program, if selected, like NASA's Flight Opportunities Program (NASA FOP) their technology is matched with a flight service provider who can meet their needs. This then leads to the technology getting rolled up into a payload that is configured for attaching to the flight vehicle.

NASA’s Flight Opportunities program strives to advance innovative space technologies of interest to the agency while also stimulating the growth and use of the U.S. commercial spaceflight industry as well as supporting capability development in the suborbital and orbital small satellite launch vehicle market.

NASA Flight Opportunities

Flight Testing

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Presently, it is not convenient to test on the Moon or Mars but terrestrially it is a very different story. You see, there can be a large swath of development testing space between the launch and landing parts. Someone with a payload may want to work inside of this area but lack the access to it. In that same vein,  as rocket technology innovators, we at Masten are not immune from the need to do technology/development related testing. To address this we have built several Engineering Test Articles (ETAs) over the years and

currently operate two ETAs named Xaero-B and Xodiac. Our vehicles aid us in the design of technologies for rockets, space applications and landers by allowing one to test in ways you just can't test on an airplane, helicopter or in some cases even other VTVL rockets. And we have made both vehicles available commercially as a test bed service where we can and have 'handed over the keys' for a technology developer's use.

The goals for any payload flying with Masten are typically to test early in the design cycle, to test often, to buy down risk prior to final implementation, and to not harm the payload in the process. Now, not every payload we fly interacts directly with the vehicle, but usually that is where the interest is in what we offer; a tailored flight test environment and the ability to interface directly at the GN&C level of the vehicle. With this comes a flexibility to turn an in-flight payload failure into an agile and iterative development environment. More about this in a bit.

 

In founding Masten Space Systems, I had (and still have) the belief that we have to confront the technical realities of today to address the ambitions of tomorrow by not being afraid to test early in the design process and by testing often. -Dave Masten

Payload Development

For our payload definitions- A payload that is interfaced with the vehicle may be open loop or closed loop. Open loop means we are the active flight control system. Closed loop means the payload is the active flight control system.

Payloads that are open loop while not in direct control are still part of an immersive test campaign. Jointly we collaborate to craft a unique flight trajectory that meets their needs and fits inside the capabilities of the vehicle. Then Masten will fly that trajectory with their payload onboard while they carry out their mission. Usually, this is a precursor to closed loop flight.

Payloads that come to Masten for closed looped flight testing get a sandbox of flight performance inside which they can ask the vehicles to do just about anything. Some may only want to do the 'GN' part, while some may need to do a full-up demonstration of their hardware and GN&C (Guidance, Navigation and Control) with an actual VTVL rocket. Whatever the level of interaction may be we give those payload providers a platform to do that testing with.

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Given that these are technologies in development it is possible that the payload may want to land where we know we can't land, fly a trajectory that would deplete the fuel supply or otherwise just be outside of expected behavior.

Reasons may include:

  • Payload simulation not sufficiently accurate to predict behavior
  • Payload con guration error
  • Payload loss of vehicle control
  • Payload hardware or IMU failure
  • Payload software failure
  • Payload navigation error

Despite best efforts these sort of things can happen. -It is why we test-

Bring it all home

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In offering this service, we didn't want to lose our vehicle due to a payload failure so we needed a way to mitigate the risks of testing closed loop payloads and to make sure we get our vehicle back the way it left. To that end, we have implemented onboard the vehicle a kind of hypervisor system that we call SENSEI™, a virtual guardian of sorts. It is constantly monitoring in real-time what is being executed on the vehicle such that if by direction of the payload the vehicle violates predetermined boundaries we can revert control back to our native GN&C system. Our system will execute an 'Abort', which for us just means to cancel the current flight trajectory and initiate a safe vehicle recovery to landing as soon as possible.

And while we have never really talked about it, for years now and over hundreds of flights, our vehicles have had this autonomous precision landing 'Abort' capability with real-time divert and landing pad select options. The combined test team works very hard so that this 'Abort' scenario never comes into play. But if it is needed we get the vehicle with payload back to try again. This is important for our own needs while also a benefit to our payloads.  It is this freedom to take risks in testing that is the crux of why people test with Masten. Payloads can confidently push the boundaries in a way they could not otherwise.

Ok- you said it is *why* payloads fly with you but I still don't understand why would anyone *want* to test this way. Why use a terrestrial test bed to aid development when you can use very high fidelity simulations, extensive hardware-in-the-loop testing, vibe testing, build an Iron Bird and so forth? Good question and points made. Those are ways of testing that are valid early in the development phase, as a part of ongoing hardware/software maintenance, to check out block configuration changes later on and so on. They are tools of testing diligence that reduce the risk. But the question still remains, why fly on a rocket-powered test bed at all?

Well, it is simple really. Flight testing is the only place where everything is rendered in perfect HD. Physics are modeled to the utmost level of precision. Variable permutations are intrinsically infinite. Flight testing is an assessment of just how accurate all of the analytics and ground-based testing were.

What we provide to our clients in a nutshell:

  • Fully autonomous flight.
  • SENSEI™ allows safe testing of new GN&C components, systems, algorithms, software and a fully redundant system to fall back to.
  • Fully autonomous flight safety system with flight to safe state.
  • Demonstrated in flight recalculation of trajectories.
  • Demonstrated touchdown accuracy of inches.
  • Navigation sensors & filters allow sub 1” position knowledge.
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Our payload developers recognize that they don't intend to put their test bench, support hardware with development software into commercial service. When that transition from lab to real-world implementation happens, failures can be expensive - and not just financially. Before you traveled to the Moon or Mars if you had the opportunity to test your integrated solution in a 'representative' configuration, why wouldn't you?

When you see videos of Xaero-B or Xodiac flying very rarely did we fly just because we wanted to (although we always do want to). The operation of 3rd party hardware and or software is transparent to the visuals of the vehicles flying, which is good and all but looking from the outside in it can be hard to appreciate the grand efforts. That make it seem.... almost redundant to what others have demonstrated, but alas it is anything but redundant. Just like we want options of capability in the cars and trucks we buy, we very much need technology options for our rocket powered vehicles and not just for the *VTVL* part of it all :)

We recently tested on Xodiac a payload called COBALT. The flight testing of that sensor package with its capability to provide an unprecedented level of landing precision, where GPS or any other existing aids are not available, is a technology option that until now- no one had plain and simple. To routinely access space and exoplanets we will need options for reaching areas of interest using precision landing to be right where we need to be and on-site capabilities for when we are safely there.

When you boil it all down to what we do and what virtually every other rocket technology developer does, it is very much complementary. We need to be successful at what we do and we need them to be successful at what they do. Space with all that it holds beckons to us.  And we are going to need lots of options to explore it.

We at Masten are going to space, to the Moon and beyond. Xaero-B and Xodiac are part of solving the technical challenges in doing that.

For us, it goes without saying that we are proud of what we do and we are pretty dang good at it if we do say so ourselves.

 

-Masten

Masten’s Green Bipropellant: MXP-351

As part of our partnership with NASA through the Lunar CATALYST (Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown) program, we have been actively developing a proprietary new bipropellant – MXP-351. This propellant is intended to be flown on our XL-1 lunar lander which is capable of bringing up to 100 kg (221 lb) softly to the lunar surface. MXP-351 represents the next step in Masten’s internal propulsion development program in improving our capabilities closer towards spaceflight.

MXP-351 is a nontoxic, storable and hypergolic bipropellant combination. These storable propellants, as opposed to cryogenic propellants like Liquid Oxygen or Liquid Hydrogen, are stable for long periods of time at room temperature. Hypergolic propellants mean that the fuel and oxidizer will ignite spontaneously as soon as they come into contact with each other. Storable and hypergolic systems eliminate the need for separate igniter systems and typically only need minimal thermal conditioning of the propellants, improving their reliability and performance. Consequently, such systems are favored highly for in-space missions like the XL-1 lunar lander.

Historically, spacecraft have used cocktails of Hydrazines and Nitrogen Tetroxide (NTO) as storable hypergolic propellants. These propellants have very high performance and were used in the Apollo Lunar Module Ascent and Descent engines, as well as part of the Space Shuttle’s Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS). However, they are both extremely toxic, requiring exhaustive procedures for safe procurement, handling, spill control, and disposal. The nontoxic MXP-351, by comparison, is exceptionally easy to handle. They have very low vapor pressures, meaning they don’t evaporate easily and pose inhalation hazards to any workers. Spills are easily rectified by simply diluting with water and rinsing away. These greatly reduced operational constraints have the potential to reduce recurring costs for spaceflight applications.

More importantly, it allows us to safely and thoroughly test out our propulsion systems here in Mojave with the same regularity as we fly our vehicles. In 2016, we successfully fired the first generation of our 225 lb XL-1 main engine, dubbed ‘Machete’. This simple ‘boilerplate’ engine validated our injector design, performance estimates, and applicability of MXP-351 in a rocket test environment. Future tests with MXP-351 will use additively-manufactured technology to test regeneratively-cooled thrust chambers, as well as scaling up the thrust capability up to 1,000 lb for a terrestrial testbed version dubbed (XL-1T) that is currently in manufacture.

NASA CATALYST has been instrumental in aiding our development in the program, giving advice from industry experts who have worked with similar propellants in the past, as well as providing advanced analytical capabilities to characterize engines with these propellants.

 

Masten Space Systems selected by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for XS-1 Program

Mojave, CA (July 23, 2014) — Masten Space Systems, Inc. (Masten) announced today that the company has been awarded a contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as part of Phase 1 of the Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program to develop a reusable launch vehicle. Over the last decade, Masten has built three highly operable, vertical takeoff/vertical landing, reusable rockets which are flown by small teams of five to seven people. Masten’s experience with vertical takeoff/vertical landing rockets has shown that the company’s flight vehicles can offer greater flexibility than reusable launch vehicles that require runways to land. Masten has logged well over 300 flights to date with its Xoie, Xombie and Xaero reusable rockets.

The goals of the XS-1 program include designing and building a rocket capable of flying 10 times in 10 days, lifting payloads greater than 3,000 pounds to low Earth orbit, and dramatically lowering the cost of launch. Masten’s team intends to utilize the first year of the XS-1 program to demonstrate critical technologies and refine the preliminary design of its “Xephyr” launch vehicle.

Phase 1 of the XS-1 program is scheduled to last 13 months, with vehicle construction and flight demonstration envisioned for subsequent phases. In Phase 2, DARPA plans to select one of its XS-1 partners to build its launch vehicle for eventual transition to future commercial or military operations.

“XS-1 comes at the right time for the industry and the right time for Masten,” said Masten CEO Sean Mahoney. “The tide is turning and space access is opening up. We’re thrilled to lead a team to tackle the hard problems DARPA has put in front of us.”

Company founder and CTO David Masten said, “It’s time. Our team is ready. We’ve been working towards this for years. XS-1 is a great program to join with our vertical landing technology.”

“The vision here is to break the cycle of escalating space system costs and enable routine space access and hypersonic vehicles,” said Dennis Poulos, Masten’s XS-1 program manager. “The XS-1 program represents a return to the bold aerospace projects of decades past, when engineers from various government agencies came together to push the spaceflight envelope.”

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ABOUT DARPA:

The mission of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is to make the pivotal early technology investments that create or prevent decisive surprise for U.S. national security. By investing in new technology-driven ideas for next-generation capabilities, DARPA creates options for a better, more secure future. Since its establishment in 1958 as part of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), DARPA has demonstrated time and again how thinking well beyond the borders of what is deemed possible can yield extraordinary results.

ABOUT MASTEN SPACE SYSTEMS:

Masten Space Systems designs, builds and operates reusable vertical takeoff and landing rockets to help lower the barriers to space access. With over 300 flights successfully completed since May 2009, Masten continues to push the boundaries of reusable launch vehicle development and autonomous precision landing. Built on the foundation of reusability and small operations teams, the XPRIZE-winning company offers rockets-as-a-service for Entry Descent and Landing development, sub-orbital, and orbital flights.

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For parties interested in offering products or services to Masten for XS-1: Contact Form

For parties interested in more information on flying on Masten’s XS-1: Contact Form

Email address: xs1@masten.aero

Astrobotic Technology And Masten Space Systems Perform Visually Guided Precision Landing

 

 

 

Contact
John Thornton
contact@astrobotic.com

Sean Mahoney
smahoney@masten.aero

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ASTROBOTIC TECHNOLOGY AND MASTEN SPACE SYSTEMS PERFORM VISUALLY GUIDED PRECISION LANDING
Groundbreaking effort integrates two privately developed technology platforms to validate performance of autonomous precision landing capability

Mojave, CA: Astrobotic Technology and Masten Space Systems announced today that the Astrobotic Autolanding System (AAS) successfully directed the Xombie vertical-takeoff vertical-landing suborbital rocket in a closed-loop test on June 20, 2014. In this technology demonstration, a computer vision system scanned the landscape, selected a landing spot, and directed a rocket-powered lander to a safe touchdown point, all without a human operator. The flight test was funded by the Flight Opportunities Program of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and conducted at the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, CA.

 

Future NASA and commercial missions will likely target destinations with challenging topography and limited communication, such as unmapped asteroids, surface rendezvous sites for sample return, and terrain features like polar peaks, crater rims, and skylights on Mars and the Moon. The Astrobotic Autolanding System (AAS) autonomously selects a landing location for a robotic spacecraft to safely land at a precise location, a capability that is critical for landing in such hazardous terrain.

Unlike typical drone landings, which rely on GPS, the AAS uses a technique called Terrain Relative Navigation to precisely track the spacecraft’s location and attitude using only cameras and an inertial measurement unit (IMU). This is necessary in environments where GPS is not available, like the Moon. The AAS then uses LIDAR to detect hazards and select a landing point. “Conceptually, this is like the Apollo missions where the astronauts navigated to a safe landing by looking out the window of the LEM,” said Kevin Peterson, Astrobotic’s CTO. “In this case, we have an onboard computer instead of an astronaut, and the cameras, IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit), and software are so precise that they can track the craft’s location to within a few meters.”

Developing navigation and hazard avoidance for a self-landing, rocket-powered spacecraft on Earth is challenging, due to the need to test in the same operating conditions that the system would encounter in a planetary landing. Astrobotic and Masten collaborated on a framework that enabled the test flight without prior knowledge of exactly where the rocket would choose to land. Astrobotic’s AAS scanned the landscape and selected a safe landing point. Masten’s onboard flight system received input from the Astrobotic vision and navigation system, validated the input, and accepted the selection of a path to the touchdown point. The flexible architecture enables flight testing while simultaneously limiting risk to vehicle, payload, and people. The successful flight was the capstone of only a few months of work together.

Masten’s CEO Sean Mahoney said, “Today was a great demonstration of how a rocket powered lander can select a safe landing site without human intervention. There are so many innovations on display in this flight campaign from both teams that it really drives home the reality that barriers to space access are falling.”

This successful closed-loop flight was an end-to-end validation of the Astrobotic Autolanding System’s precision landing capability in a relevant flight environment. The development focus will now shift to implementing the AAS with space-rated sensors and avionics in order to land Astrobotic’s Griffin lander safely on the Moon.

Masten’s terrestrial rocket testbed next takes to flight later this year in support of future rocket landing technologies, while the company continues to build the next generation of vertical take off/vertical landing vehicles.

About Astrobotic
Astrobotic makes high-capability space missions practical for a broad spectrum of business, scientific, and commercial applications. With its partner Carnegie Mellon University, Astrobotic is pursuing the Google Lunar XPRIZE. Astrobotic was founded in 2008 and is headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA.

About Masten Space Systems
Masten Space Systems designs, builds and operates reusable vertical takeoff and landing rockets to help lower the barriers to space access. With over 300 flights successfully completed since May 2009, Masten continues to push the boundaries of reusable launch vehicle development. Built on the foundation of reusability and small operations teams, the XPRIZE winning company offers rockets-as-a-service for Entry Descent and Landing development, suborbital, and orbital flights.

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f_GZvygaEH4]

Masten’s Xombie Flight Tests Astrobotic’s Autonomous Landing System [NASA Article]