“We’ve always designed our landers to be robust,” Masten said. “We’ve found that companies are more willing to let you fly their valuable payload when the vehicle has had dozens of successful flights already."
MOJAVE, Calif. (PRWEB) April 22, 2020
Masten Space Systems has been awarded a contract from the US Air Force to change the way supplies are airdropped to frontline Special Operations Forces. The study will explore rapidly landing supplies under rocket power rather than a long slow fall under a parachute.
Under the Phase 1 award from the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, and in partnership with Rhea Space Activity & Purdue University, Masten will conduct a feasibility study to produce an initial design for a rocket-powered landing craft, named XERMES, to deliver supplies to frontline units. The vehicle, based on Masten’s proven Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) rocket technology, would slow itself from free-fall to a safe landing through an aggressive retro braking burn, pulling above 9 g’s of force which is twice as much as a typical rocket launch. Once XERMES lands, ground troops will recover the cargo stored onboard and then the vehicle could be reused for another supply drop.
Dave Masten, founder and CTO of Masten Space Systems said that creating a rugged cargo vehicle for the Air Force fits well within the company’s design philosophy.
“We’ve always designed our landers to be robust,” Masten said. “We’ve found that companies are more willing to let you fly their valuable payload when the vehicle has had dozens of successful flights already. We’re excited for this opportunity to develop a vehicle that the Air Force trusts to reliably deliver critical supplies where they’re needed.”
Rhea Space Activity came up with the idea to deliver supplies via a rocket-powered lander after an incident in 2016 when a Special Operations resupply crew was endangered as its aircrew flew 800 feet above a besieged compound to deliver supplies as accurately as possible, taking fire as it passed overhead. Rather than drop payloads from low altitude to achieve high precision, the proposed system would guide itself in from high altitude. Starting the drop from above 20,000 feet, well out of the range of small arms fire, the lander would freefall to just 500 feet above ground. Then, the vehicle would fire its rocket engine and land within three feet of a designated area. This high-impulse deceleration burn would last only seconds, providing little opportunity for adversaries to intercept or destroy critical supplies.
Steven Collicott, a professor at Purdue University and partner on the contract, said that this project is the latest step in Purdue’s long history of developing innovative space technology.
“From Neil Armstrong to next-generation space habitats, Purdue University has made multiple contributions to the space industry,” Collicott said. “There’s a certain amount of satisfaction in seeing technology made for a Moon landing come full circle to landing here on Earth.”
Rhea Space Activity worked with Masten Space Systems to develop the idea as a parallel application for their current work with lunar landers under the NASA Commercial Lunar Payload System. Masten has been flying rocket-powered landers for over ten years, with more than 600 successful VTVL flights accomplished across five vehicles. These vehicles have demonstrated high levels of positioning and navigation capabilities including winning both level one and level two of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge X Prize in 2009 with an average landing accuracy of less than 8 inches from the target.
Beau Rideout, an engineer at RSA said that the adaptation of space technology to other applications should be considered more frequently.
“Especially in today’s space industry where innovative new ideas are being developed continuously, it’s hard to know if one company has solved someone else’s problem,” said Rideout. “This is especially relevant to conversations between small businesses and the government. Lots of space companies have developed technology that solves this and other problems in national security, such as secure communications, novel sensor devices, and intelligent reconnaissance platforms.”
Following the completion of this Phase 1 award, Masten will apply for a Phase 2 contract to bring operational lander hardware to USAF personnel. The Phase 2 effort will include hot-fire tests of the proposed design along with tests of contingency measures to ensure the safety of ground personnel and supplies.
About Masten Space Systems
Mojave, California based Masten Space Systems was founded in 2004 by CTO David Masten and is focused on reusable rocket technology, driven by the goal of enabling space transportation and providing reliable planetary landers for the Earth, Moon, Mars, and beyond. Masten is lowering the barriers to space access through their core technology of re-usability. The company sees a future where rocket flights are so commonplace they’re boring. For more information, please visit http://www.masten.aero
About Purdue University
Purdue University has 25 American astronauts among its alumni and four Nobel Prize Laureates. The graduates of the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics have made significant contributions to the aerospace field and have held positions of high responsibility in government and private industry. Professor Collicott is actively researching low-gravity fluid dynamics and capillary fluid physics as the focus of two-phase fluids research with applications in spaceflight propulsion. For more information, please visit engineering.purdue.edu/AAE
About Rhea Space Activity
Rhea Space Activity (RSA) is an astrophysics start-up company in the science and technology industry. Specifically, RSA ideates and creates high-risk/high-reward R&D concepts to support U.S. national security objectives. RSA has developed various technologies in the fields infrared satellites, directed energy, artificial intelligence, LIDAR, astro-particle physics, small satellites, cislunar operations, intelligence collection, autonomous underwater vehicles and for the F35 Lightening II. For more information, please visit http://www.rheaspaceactivity.com