As part of our partnership with NASA through the Lunar CATALYST (Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown) program, we have been actively developing a proprietary new propellant – MXP-351. This propellant is intended to be flown on our XL-1 lunar lander which is capable of bringing up to 100 kg (221 lb) softly to the lunar surface. MXP-351 represents the next step in Masten’s internal propulsion development program in improving our capabilities closer towards spaceflight.
MXP-351 is a nontoxic, storable and hypergolic propellant combination. These storable propellants, as opposed to cryogenic propellants like Liquid Oxygen or Liquid Hydrogen, are stable for long periods of time at room temperature. Hypergolic propellants mean that the fuel and oxidizer will ignite spontaneously as soon as they come into contact with each other. Storable and hypergolic systems eliminate the need for separate igniter systems and typically only need minimal thermal conditioning of the propellants, improving their reliability and performance. Consequently, such systems are favored highly for in-space missions like the XL-1 lunar lander.
Historically, spacecraft have used cocktails of Hydrazines and Nitrogen Tetroxide (NTO) as storable hypergolic propellants. These propellants have very high performance and were used in the Apollo Lunar Module Ascent and Descent engines, as well as part of the Space Shuttle’s Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS). However, they are both extremely toxic, requiring exhaustive procedures for safe procurement, handling, spill control, and disposal. The nontoxic MXP-351, by comparison, is exceptionally easy to handle. They have very low vapor pressures, meaning they don’t evaporate easily and pose inhalation hazards to any workers. Spills are easily rectified by simply diluting with water and rinsing away. These greatly reduced operational constraints have the potential to reduce recurring costs for spaceflight applications.
More importantly, it allows us to safely and thoroughly test out our propulsion systems here in Mojave with the same regularity as we fly our vehicles. In 2016, we successfully fired the first generation of our 225 lb XL-1 main engine, dubbed ‘Machete’. This simple ‘boilerplate’ engine validated our injector design, performance estimates, and applicability of MXP-351 in a rocket test environment. Future tests with MXP-351 will use additively-manufactured technology to test regeneratively-cooled thrust chambers, as well as scaling up the thrust capability up to 1,000 lb for a terrestrial testbed version dubbed (XL-1T) that is currently in manufacture.
NASA CATALYST has been instrumental in aiding our development in the program, giving advice from industry experts who have worked with similar propellants in the past, as well as providing advanced analytical capabilities to characterize engines with these propellants.
This skyscape features dusty Sharpless catalog emission region Sh2-155, the Cave Nebula. In the telescopic image, data taken through a narrowband filter tracks the reddish glow of ionized hydrogen atoms. About 2,400 light-years away, the scene lies along the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy toward the royal northern constellation of Cepheus.
Astronomical explorations of the region reveal that it has formed at the boundary of the massive Cepheus B molecular cloud and the hot, young stars of the [...]
The astronauts took a break from spacewalk preparations today and checked out an expandable module and worked on science freezers. The crew also continued its human research program exploring space nutrition and the effects of microgravity on metabolism and the immune system.
Thomas Pesquet opened the hatches to the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) today for a status check. The European Space Agency astronaut sampled BEAM’s air and surfaces for microbes and installed impact sensors [...]
Dwarf planet Ceres may be hundreds of millions of miles from Jupiter, and even farther from Saturn, but the tremendous influence of gravity from these gas giants has an appreciable effect on Ceres' orientation. In a new study, researchers from NASA's Dawn mission calculate that the axial tilt of Ceres -- the angle at which it spins as it journeys around the sun -- varies widely over the course of about 24,500 years. Astronomers consider this to be a surprisingly short period of time for such dra [...]
In cosmic brush strokes of glowing hydrogen gas, this beautiful skyscape unfolds across the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy near the northern end of the Great Rift and the center of the constellation Cygnus the Swan. A 36 panel mosaic of telescopic image data, the scene spans about six degrees. Bright supergiant star Gamma Cygni (Sadr) to the upper left of the image center lies in the foreground of the complex gas and dust clouds and crowded star fields.
Left of Gamma Cygni, shaped like two lu [...]
Three astronauts are preparing for a Friday morning spacewalk to upgrade and maintain the International Space Station’s external systems. The three cosmonauts stayed focused today on their set of Russian space experiments and life support work.
Astronauts Shane Kimbrough of NASA and Thomas Pesquet from the European Space Agency are reviewing procedures for the spacewalk set to begin Friday at 8 a.m. EDT with live NASA TV coverage at 6:30 a.m. NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson joined the pair for [...]
Start with the constellation of Orion. Below Orion's belt is a fuzzy area known as the Great Nebula of Orion. In this nebula is a bright star cluster known as the Trapezium, marked by four bright stars near the image center. The newly born stars in the Trapezium and surrounding regions show the Orion Nebula to be one of the most active areas of star formation to be found in our area of the Galaxy.
In Orion, supernova explosions and close interactions between stars have created rogue planets [...]