NASA said in a release posted on its Web site that the unmanned space lander experienced "a hardware component failure, which prevented it from maintaining stable flight."
Video footage (viewable at: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/videogallery/index.html?collection_id=55271&media_id=150149101) showed Morpheus' engine first being tested while suspended from a crane at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Then after being place back on the ground, there was a countdown and the was engine fired again, lifting the lander a few dozen feet into the air before it rolled over and smashed into the ground where it burned intensely for a few minutes.
"No one was injured and the resulting fire was extinguished by Kennedy Space Center fire personnel," the release stated. "Engineers are looking into the test data and the agency will release information as it comes available. Failures such as these were anticipated prior to the test and are part of the development process for any complex spaceflight hardware. What we learn from these tests will help us build the best possible system in the future."
Morpheus, which uses a new type of liquid methane, liquid oxygen engine, could one day carry cargo to the moon, asteroids or Mars, NASA says.
NASA says it is keenly interested in using methane, a so-called green propellant, since it can be stored for longer times in space compared with other common rocket propellants. It also is a safer and cheaper fuel, and NASA says one day it possibly could be extracted from ice found on the moon or Mars. The International Space Station produces and discharges enough methane waste gas each year to fill the Morpheus fuel tanks, NASA says.