The following is a discussion by a Mr. Gene Grush, retired mechanical engineer, on the data that has been used to predict climate change.
SaintsCadet: Morpheus is NASA’s little known but highly successful test program of a prototype lunar lander that could one day successfully land men, women, and cargo on the Moon.
Morpheus was born from a vision of NASA’s Johnson Space Center’s Director of Engineering back in the late 2009 – a project called “Project M”. “Project M“ was an ambitious attempt to send a “Robonaut” to the moon in 3 years – a robotic version of one of NASA’s astronauts built at Johnson Space Center (JSC). 2009 was just after the cancellation of the Constellation Program, the US’s attempt to go back to the Moon to stay, and its cancellation was a real hit to our NASA workforce both from a morale and technological-advancement point of view. Our far-thinking Director of Engineering felt that NASA needed something to reinvigorate the working troops and to continue pushing the technology and working skills along for an eventual return to the Moon. So he came up with “Project M”. To accomplish Project M required design, test and manufacture of a reliable lunar lander. So from that directive came NASA-JSC’s prototype lander program. NASA’s “Lunar X Prize” contest provided a catalyst for us to kickstart our lander effort by partnering with Armadillo Aerospace, one of the “Lunar X” contestants, to build parts of the lander. We worked about 9 months on “Project M” and the prototype lander. Unfortunately, ultimately the internal NASA politics, in-fighting between the centers, and the lack of interest from Washington of the objectives of “Project M”, wasn’t conducive for “Project M” to continue. Ultimately the project died and morphed into a lunar lander only project called “Project Morpheus” (yes, we tried to still stick with a name that started with M).
I was lucky to be part of Project Morpheus at it’s on-set under Project M. The goal was to test key technologies needed for both a robotic or human lander and to demonstrate these technologies worked on Earth. Later I left the program, but continued to monitor it from the side with great interest, as did all of JSC, KSC, and NASA. One of the key things about Project Morpheus was that the hardware was designed, built, and tested by NASA engineers and technicians – allowing them to gain considerable design experience and confidence that they may not have the opportunity to gain otherwise.
Of all the vehicles that NASA has built, the lander is unique in that you can build a close representative of the actual vehicle and test it almost fully on Earth. Earth’s gravity is different from the Moon’s, and of course there is the Earth’s atmosphere to contend with. But you can fly a lunar vehicle and send it through a near actual trajectory on Earth. This was later successfully demonstrated multiple times by NASA at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida with the Morpheus lander prototype.
Morpheus ultimately made thirteen successful “lunar” flights and one night flight at KSC. It’s prime objectives was to develop 3D autonomous navigation landing technology and key new liquid oxygen/methane propulsion technology. The propulsion technology was higher performing than Apollo’s lunar technology. The concept is key if we ever want to go to Mars. And the tests at KSC successfully demonstrated the viability of this technology.
Yes there were bumps along the way. Morpheus’ maiden free flight at KSC spectacularly crashed within seconds of ignition. That unfortunately can happen in prototype testing. The important thing is to learn from these failures not give up. And our JSC Director of Engineering, the Morpheus Project Manger, and the NASA Administrator didn’t let this destroy or cancel the project. The Morpheus team pushed through to build a new and better lander based on the failure’s “lessons learned”.
NASA faces a critical decision. The initial test goals of Morpheus are now complete. Does NASA stand down the team or continue? I strongly vote for continuance. But the rumors are that the project will no longer be funded, even though the vehicle has proven to be wonderfully successful. NASA has only scratched the surface of the technologies and skills needed to build future space vehicles. All the newly learned skills of the engineers could slowly be lost or set aside if the team stands down and goes its separate ways.
There are still technologies to be developed for a lunar lander mission – including use of new composites, thermal protection, updated avionics, radiation protection, etc. Surviving the harsh environment of the Moon is not easy. The list is long. And all of these technologies can be developed in a fully working model of an actual lander tested on Earth like Morpheus.
It has been over 40 years since Apollo. It takes huge effort to re-constitute both the skills and technology for going to other places in our solar system. Space X has been building a launch company for over 10 years and only recently seen the fruits of their labor. NASA needs to support projects that help build our young engineer’s design skills and keeps them interested in staying with the agency. I see Morpheus as a strong tool for these endeavors.
And maybe… just maybe… even Project M or something as ambitious could see the light of day. Imagine having a fly-off between Space X, a Boeing/Lockheed led team, and an internal NASA team working with the small passionate space companies that have come on the scene to put a robot on the moon. Space X’s Falcon heavy launch vehicle probably has enough performance to send all three to the moon in a single flight.
Attached to this article is a wonderful video of Morpheus’ thirteenth successful free flight test at Kennedy Space Center. The Morpheus team makes it look easy, but getting there was anything but. I hope this video inspires you as much as it does us. Other videos, including the night flight, are available on the Morpheus web site at morpheuslander.jsc.nasa.gov and YouTube.
Video Credit: nasa.gov – Morpheus Lander Team – YouTube – 2014
[Admin Cadet: SaintsCadet wrote this excellent article on how we performed the Apollo missions. I requested him to post his article and he kindly concurred.]
HOW DID WE GET TO THE MOON? by SaintsCadet
How do we get humans to the Moon? The answer is: by a whole lot of acceleration. How much? First off, to either increase or slow down your speed while in a spacecraft, you have to fire your engines. To get to the Moon and back you do a number of engine firings or “burns” that either increase your speed or decrease your speed. Adding up the total time and amount of propellant used in these burns is what NASA space jockeys call “delta velocity”. The larger the delta velocity, the more cost and more complexity is needed for the mission. Assuming your starting point is Earth’s orbit, the delta velocity needed to get to the Moon and back for the total mission is approx 22,000 miles/hour, a very large number. And this assumes you plan to use the Earth’s atmosphere to slow down your vehicle when you return from the Moon thus reducing your propellant needs. This is what Apollo had to do when we first went to the Moon. There are techniques that lower this amount, but not by much.
Our first unmanned lunar surveyor missions in the 60s used a direct approach to the Moon. They did not enter into orbit around the Moon. They headed directly to the surface from Earth which reduced the delta velocity number by only 200 miles/hour. Not that much of a reduction in the overall scheme of things.
Let’s get into more detail. I am going explain how Apollo went to Moon. First, remember that the scientists and engineers in the 60’s and 70’s had no one to copy or learn from when doing this amazing feat. However, they were competing with the Soviets and they had a healthy pot of money to work with. This allowed them to use a massive single launch vehicle approach in place of using multiple launches.
Of course we needed a launch vehicle to lift the astronauts and their lunar vehicles from the Earth, and we had a very heavy-capable launch vehicle in the Saturn V Rocket. Not only did this vehicle put you into low Earth orbit, but it also had the capability to boost the lunar vehicles toward the Moon. This took a delta velocity of over 7000 miles/hour, which is almost a 1/3 of the total 22,000 miles/hour stated above. The Saturn put the Apollo vehicles into Earth orbit and then provided the initial burn to get the vehicles headed toward the Moon.
The lunar portion of the Apollo mission was made up of three vehicles. The first, called the Service Module, was a smaller propulsion vehicle that would do the engine burns needed when the vehicles got to the Moon and then returned them from the Moon.
The second was the vehicle that would house all the astronauts while not on the Moon and also land them back on Earth in the ocean. This was the Apollo capsule (also known as the crew module or Command Module). Since it gets very hot when you start your braking upon return to the Earth, it needed a shape and heat shield that made this possible.
The third and final vehicle was the Lunar Module (also known as the Lunar Lander) which was made up of two sections: the first section was the lunar descent stage and the second was the lunar ascent stage.
Okay this explains the energy side of the operation and the vehicles used. What about the path you take? Unfortunately in space you can’t just draw a straight line and press the accelerator. You have to contend with two dominant forces. The first we all know about is gravity. However, this is not constant. The further you are away from Earth, the gravity working on your vehicle gets less. Not a lot of change between the Earth and Moon, but you still need to address it.
The second is centrifugal force. If you ever have been on a merry-go-around or go around a sharp curve you should know what this force is. When you go around in a circle this is the force that tries to pull you back to a straight path out of the circle.
The second force only becomes dominant when you near a gravitation object such as the Earth or Moon and you go into an orbit. Simply put, a stable circular orbit is where the gravity equals the centrifugal force. You don’t fly away and you don’t fall down.
The Saturn rocket put the three lunar vehicles in Earth’s orbit first. To save weight, the three lunar vehicles were not fully connected when launched from Earth. Actually the lander had to rendezvous with the service module/capsule in Earth’s orbit. Trying to launch them connected from Earth would have cost too much weight, and when going to the Moon, weight is king.
The Saturn vehicle pushed these vehicles out of the Earth’s orbit and toward the Moon by putting them in an elliptical orbit with the Moon and Earth at the outer ends. Once you get to the Moon, the service module then fired it’s engines for a decrease in delta velocity of 2235 miles/hour to enter the Moon’s orbit. Without this, the vehicle would naturally return to Earth. This natural return is important because it is what allowed us to safely return the Apollo 13 astronauts after their service module was rendered non-functional by a tank explosion.
While in the Moon’s orbit, the lander then disconnected from the service module/capsule using its own propulsion system and landed on the Moon.
After the lunar excursion was over, a lunar ascent portion of the lander lifted from the surface of the Moon and returned to the service module/capsule. The service module then fired its engines to leave the lunar orbit and re-entered into the elliptical path to the Earth. Only the service module and capsule returned to Earth.
That’s it. I hope this explanation made sense. There are slightly different ways to get to the moon. In my next article I hope to explain one of these different approaches and how it can be used to quickly ramp up a US Moon Program for my vision of a permanent human base on the Moon.
Simplified Apollo Profile (Note: LOR = Lunar Orbit Rendezvous) [Image Credit: usually attributed to John Houbolt/NASA aerospace engineer/lunar orbit rendezvous team lead]:
Saturn V Rocket and Lunar Spacecraft (including the Command Module, Service Module, and Lunar Module) [Image Credit: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 2002]: