Saturday, 20 April 2013

NASA's Bolden cites Morpheus project as part of necessary risk taking

NASA's Bolden cites Morpheus project as part of necessary risk taking, In an April 19m 2013 press release posted on SpaceRef, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden cited a project called Morpheus as an example of risk taking that he says is necessary for the space agency to undertake.

“Let me give you an example of what I mean. Most of you have heard of the Morpheus Project. This small project was formulated at JSC as a way to develop, understand, and demonstrate some new technologies and to build the capabilities of our work force in a rapid engineering cycle environment - in the vernacular, learn fast, fail forward. I am sure some might think of Morpheus as a failure since a significant piece of hardware crashed and burned while under test. Contrary to this view, I regard Morpheus as a success and here is why:

“From the beginning, the team worked to an aggressive, but thoughtful plan to move forward and learn fast. They accomplished a lot and learned a lot in a short time without much money. After many successes (and a few failures) they lost the test vehicle during a flight. The Morpheus test vehicle could have been built with more fault tolerance so that it wouldn't have crashed, but doing so would have required a much more complex system design and a longer build and test process and would have slowed the pace of learning. An increased risk of losing hardware was the price paid to learn fast.

“All that said, the team did a good job of planning for the safety of their people so that when the worst did happen, no one was hurt. As a learning organization, I think we reacted properly to the crash. The team had identified and accepted the loss of vehicle risk and no one was pilloried for the loss. The center leadership moved quickly to establish an engineering investigation to understand what happened and to learn from it. At the agency level, we let it be known that we endorsed that approach and would not convene a formal mishap investigation. No one likes to lose equipment, but we recognized that failure is part of the price of learning and acted accordingly. As long as we ensure that our people are protected we can manage and tolerate failures as part of the price of progress.”

Morpheus is a vertical takeoff and landing vehicle designed and tested by engineers at Houston’s Johnson Spaceflight Center with the assistance of Armadillo Aerospace. It is meant to test green propellant (LOX/Methane) and autonomous landing and hazard avoidance technologies. It is hoped that Morpheus will lead to a lunar lander capable of delivering 1,100 pounds to the lunar surface. Payloads might include an autonomous humanoid robot, a lunar rover, or a machine to extract oxygen from lunar dust.

A free flight test of the Morpheus resulted in the loss of the vehicle late in 2012. Engineers are currently working on a new version of the vehicle for further tests later in 2013.

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