NASA’s Morpheus vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) craft fulfills many science fiction dreams of the last 60 or so years. Maybe one day a scaled-up cousin of it will be able to service extraterrestrial bodies in our solar system. Until then, it is just really cool to watch this thing takeoff, pick a landing spot all by itself and execute a vertical landing safely all on rocket power alone.
The Morpheus project set out with independence of operation in mind and built a vehicle that could autonomously land and takeoff vertically from places like the Moon and Mars. It would also be able to use safer and more abundant fuels that may be able to be manufactured on location far away from earth’s infrastructure.
An early Morpheus test in 2012 resulted in a crash:
Maybe the most incredible aspect of Morpheus is that it is a lean and mean program and was built on a comparatively tiny budget, with just $14 million dollars being spent on the program between 2010 and 2014. Many of its components are off-the-shelf in nature or even cannibalized from other programs. NASA thinks this approach saved roughly 75 percent compared to traditional development program methods.
An up-scaled version of Morpheus could become a reliable taxi to the surface of Mars or the Moon in the future. NASA’s recent announcement that water flows on the Red Planet’s surface makes it extremely attractive for a Morpheus type of application as its basic fuel could be manufactured using what is readily available in the martian environment.
Being able to refuel a craft like this on the remote planet’s surface opens up a whole slew of possibilities, many of which could greatly reduce the risks of a manned mission to such a inhospitable place and greatly expand the exploration opportunities when there.
Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.