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Masten Space System rocket crashes in test flight in Mojave

September 11, 2012|By W.J. Hennigan
(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)

MOJAVE -- The test flight appeared to be going well when the 12-foot rocket soared into blue sky. But upon its descent, something went wrong.

On Tuesday, Masten Space System’s Xaero test rocket exploded during a test flight here at Mojave Air and Space Port. There were no injuries, but the vehicle was lost.

The 2-year-old vertical takeoff and landing vehicle launched around 10:30 a.m. on its most ambitious mission to date. It hit 3,280 feet and slowly came down for a landing under rocket power when it began wildly oscillating.

The vehicle's on-board computers appeared to attempt to steady the rocket. But while it was aloft the company said it shut off the liquid oxygen-fueled engine. The 967-pound white rocket tumbled to the ground, creating a massive fire ball that enveloped the small launch pad.

"The initial cause appears to be a throttle valve failure," Masten said in a statement. "The most important thing is that our team is safe and with the data from this test, we expect to be flying again soon!"

Masten personnel said the Xaero had more than 100 flights under its belt. The company, which counts NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory as a client, has already began building a second Xaero vehicle.

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