Masten Eyeing Canaveral For Suborbital Launches

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Masten Space Systems of Mojave, Calif., and Space Florida have signed a letter of intent to explore conducting demonstration launches of Masten’s suborbital reusable launch vehicle from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 36, Masten and Space Florida announced Nov. 22.

“We have been looking at Florida as a launch option for some time now,” Masten founder and Chief Executive Dave Masten said in a statement. “We are excited to begin the process of determining if Launch Complex 36 is a good location for our flight operations, and hope to attempt a demonstration launch sometime in 2011.”

Masten was selected by NASA in November to share $475,000 with Texas-based Armadillo Aerospace to conduct flight demonstrations under the U.S. space agency’s Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research (CRuSR) program. Masten’s portion was $250,000.

Michael Mealling, Masten’s vice president for business development, told Space News in October the company would conduct its first test flight of its Xaero vertical takeoff, vertical launching vehicle in November from Masten’s test site at the Mojave Air and Space Port. Following that independently financed flight, Masten planned to conduct two NASA-funded flights in December that will send Xaero to a height of 5 kilometers.

Masten’s flight-test schedule has since slipped about a month to the right.

Xaero is in systems testing now and will proceed through a series of tie-down tests, then tethered flights, then free flights. The way things are looking the first flight will be very early December from Mojave,” Masten’s director of business development, Colin Ake, told Space News in a Nov. 23 e-mail. “As for the CRuSR flight, we have rescheduled those for January. We had some schedule slips on a few fronts and would rather reschedule flights than encourage our team to speed through the process of vehicle checkout and test flights. Safety has always been paramount here and will continue to be in focus as we move towards our 5 km CRuSR flights.”

Masten and Space Florida said Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 36 required “minimal construction” to prepare it for Masten demonstration launches. The launch complex has been largely dormant since the February 2005 launch of a Lockheed Martin Atlas 3B rocket carrying a classified payload for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office.