Rocket re-light enables vertical descent

The traditional science fiction concept of a rocket landing tail down on its exhaust got a step closer on May 26th 2010 when Masten Space Systems successfully re-lit a downward pointing rocket in flight.

If VTVL (Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing) launch vehicles are ever going to be viable, it needs to be possible to shut down their engines during the coast and re-entry phase of a flight, and then re-light them when landing.
The successful test was undertaken at the company's test facility at Mojave, California, using "Xombie", Masten's most flown vehicle.

"This was by far the coolest rocket flight I've ever seen!" said Ian Garcia, Masten's Guidance, Navigation, and Controls Engineer who wrote the flight control software. Ben Brockert and Jonathan Goff engineered the propulsion and vehicle systems to allow for a two second cycle time from shutdown to restart.

With the completion of the re-lighting milestone, the company is able to turn to other development tasks that include supersonic aerodynamics, aerodynamic controls and space-capable electronics.

The immediate intention is to produce lower cost vehicles for sub orbital tasks such as microgravity experiments and scientific measurements in the upper atmosphere. The company won the NASA and Northrup Grumman funded Lunar Lander Challenge in October 2009.

Author
Tom Shelley

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