Masten Space Systems completed the first hot fire tests of its larger, more powerful Xaero B vertical landing rocket demonstrator at Mojave, Calif, on April 9.

The vehicle is powered by Masten’s 1,000lb-thrust-class Scimitar engine, rated at 1,200lb for the Xaero B. First flight is expected over the next few months says Masten, which aims to use the vehicle for carrying payloads under NASA’s Flight Opportunities program.

Speaking recently to Aviation Week, Masten founder Dave Masten says that, following initial vertical hops, the prime objective is to fly the demonstrator above 6 km altitude “as soon as we can” to make it eligible for participation in the NASA program.

The Flight Opportunities program, part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, aims to develop and mature new technology payloads using suborbital reusable launch vehicles, high-altitude balloons and parabolic aircraft.

The Xaero is a re-configured, higher-altitude version of Masten’s Xombie, which first flew in 2009. A prototype version of Xaero was lost when a control valve malfunctioned during a test flight at Mojave in September last year. By then, however, Masten had already accelerated development of the more capable Xaero B which will be used for the bulk of research flights up to initial altitudes above 20 km to 30 km.

Based on the experience gained with Xaero B, Masten also plans to develop a larger vehicle dubbed Xogdor. Powered by a 3,500 lb thrust Katana engine with an improved injector design, the Xogdor will carry the same payload Xaero B to “four or five times the altitude. This next vehicle will get to 200 km,” Masten says.

Depending on how the market develops, the company says it may build a sister vehicle to Xaero B, which will be called the C version. Potential developments include the removal of its landing legs, and construction of a fixed ground landing receptacle into which the vehicle will dock using its “centimeter” accuracy navigation and landing system.

Masten also continues flights of its original Xombie demonstrator which on March 25 flew to 1,626 ft., its highest altitude yet, during a test flight of a precision navigation system at Mojave. For that 80-sec. flight, the vehicle was controlled by Charles Stark Draper Laboratory’s Guidance Embedded Navigator Integration Environment (Genie) system developed under NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program.