NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – NASA is working on the next generation of space lander and a company from right here in North Texas is helping.

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Dozens of tests are putting the Morpheus Lander through the paces at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

While the autonomous planetary lander is able to lift off with the power of green fuel, NASA isn’t spending a lot of ‘green’ to test it.

“It is a vertical flying test bed that enables us to test the technology here on earth,” Project Morpheus Manager Jon Olanson explained, adding that as the lander evolves it would, “…then be available for flights to other planetary surfaces, whether that be the moon or mars or an asteroid.”



The green fuel that Morpheus uses is methane and liquid oxygen. Since the unit is autonomous no pilot is needed to navigate its 1,100-pound carrying load. And by NASA standards the lander was put together on a shoestring budget.

The Texas connection tracks all the way back to Mesquite. Armadillo Aerospace is once again onboard with NASA. The company also helped create the first model, which unfortunately met an untimely end. The 2012 test model planetary lander crashed and burned just seconds after liftoff.

But that was last summer and since then the team has made all kinds of upgrades. “Sometimes at this stage, things are not going to go perfect, so you learn from those and you make adjustments and then you move forward,” Olanson said. “We have made 70 adjustments from the last vehicle.”

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Since the big setback, Morpheus has been going gangbusters. The team will soon head back to the Kennedy Space Center to try the test what tripped them up last year.

Olason said, “What we are doing we think will benefit human exploration in the future.”

The enthusiasm of the Morpheus team is apparently contagious. “It was really cool!” witness Hilary Yip said after watching a test.

“You know it’s exciting and it goes off,” said Brian Butcher, who works on Morpheus. “You know it’s not everyday you get to see a rocket powered lander launching on site.”

Matthew Osfeld also watched one of the tests. He said, “It’s going into a new era of technology and hopefully in the future we can have more technology that can free fly and go further than we have ever gone before.”

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