MOJAVE, Calif. (The Blaze/AP) -- A privately built rocket has made its first free-flight in the California desert as part of a NASA program exploring vertical landing systems for solar system exploration.
The autonomous flight occurred earlier this month at the Mojave Air and Space Port about 90 miles north of Los Angeles.
Masten Space Systems' unmanned rocket named Xombie lifted off the ground, flew horizontally and landed at a pad 164 feet away. The demonstration lasted 67 seconds.
Watch the flight:
Draper Laboratory writes in a statement that the rocket used the GENIE (Guidance Embedded Navigator Integration Environment) System, which it believes will allow NASA to "test its payloads on Earth under realistic flight conditions before sending them into space":
Aircraft available to test NASA instruments today are unable to fly at the desired trajectories for planetary landings, and computer simulations are used to generate that data. However, a GENIE controlled flight vehicle could mimic a spacecraft’s final approach to the Moon and Mars here on Earth. Emerging and advancing future space technologies will then have the opportunity to fly their payloads terrestrially to raise their overall Technology Readiness Level and show that they are ready for use in space.
In 2009, Masten won a $1 million prize in a NASA-backed simulated lunar landing contest using the Xombie rocket. The space agency awarded Masten and another company, Armadillo Aerospace, $475,000 in 2010 to test vehicles that could carry small payloads to "near-space" -- altitudes between 65,000 feet and 350,000 feet.