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MLEV-5 'Mars Hopper'

Pegasus Hobbies 1/32 MLEV-5 'Mars Hopper' Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review September 2015 Manufacturer Pegasus Hobbies
Subject MLEV-5 'Mars Hopper' Scale 1/32
Kit Number 9125 Primary Media Styrene, Resin, Photo-Etch
Pros Huge and highly detailed kit of concept spacecraft Cons See text
Skill Level Experienced MSRP (USD) $224.99

First Look

MLEV-5 'Mars Hopper'
MLEV-5 'Mars Hopper'
MLEV-5 'Mars Hopper'
MLEV-5 'Mars Hopper'
MLEV-5 'Mars Hopper'
MLEV-5 'Mars Hopper'
MLEV-5 'Mars Hopper'
MLEV-5 'Mars Hopper'
MLEV-5 'Mars Hopper'
MLEV-5 'Mars Hopper'

You might remember when we showed the first test shots of a new kit announced by Pegasus Hobbies from the iHobbyExpo trade show several years ago, the MLEV-5, and how this project progressed since that time. The model is based upon a concept by artist Randy Cooper depicting a spacecraft in the not-so-distant future used to explore the moons of Mars. This is the second kit based upon an artistic concept (Mercury 9 was the first) and I have to commend Pegasus Hobbies for boldly going where no kit company has gone before.

This kit is Mars Lunar Explorer Vehicle (MLEV) number 5 which was conceptualized to conduct excursions to/from low-gravity Martian moons though I'm not sure if this craft would have the fuel to launch from/return to the Martian surface. Since this is an exploration vessel, that begs the question of whether there is any orbital infrastructure available (space station or unmanned supply vessel) above Mars to serve as a mothership for MLEV-5 (and I'd assume MLEVs 1-4 as well).

When the kit arrived via UPS, the shipping weight was listed as nine pounds (4 kg) though a part of that was the shipping box itself. The kit box is quite sizable as well, measuring approximately 24" x 18" x 9" (61cm x 46cm x 23cm) and when you remove the lid, the interior is divided into two bays FULL of sprues. The packaging of the kit for shipment as well as the internal packaging of the parts is very nicely done.

Molded in light gray styrene, this kit is presented on 16 parts trees, plus the left and right hull halves, main cabin floor and ceiling, two trees of clear parts, three trees of chrome-plated parts, one fret of photo-etched parts, one piece of clear acetate, one sheet of gold foil, two lengths of rubber (vinyl) tubing, and two resin figures. Duplicate parts trees are not shown. After pouring over the instructions, it appears that the kit is straightforward on assembly (see note below) and is not over-engineered (not overly complex with a bunch of details where you won't see them).

The designers of this kit clearly anticipated that modelers were going to add lighting to this model and provided the acetate for the ceiling to allow interior lighting to shine down from above the main cabin. Some folks have talked about back-lighting the displays on the control consoles but you won't see them from the outside, so save yourself some time there. The chrome parts are the light housings for the exterior spotlights positioned all around the spacecraft. There are even photo-etch protective grilles to put over them if you wish. There are a variety of other lighting opportunities depending on your aesthetic and imagination.

The one unfortunate compromise in this kit are the four gimballed engine bells under the craft. These are molded in halves where the aft 'jump' motor bell is nicely slide-molded. The gimballed bells have an insert that goes inside to block off the seams but these provide the look of those engines out of Gerry Anderson space shows. We'll see how well these bells can be cleaned up though I see some possibilities with an upcoming aftermarket set designed for another spacecraft that offers turned aluminum bells. The eight attitude engine bells (four on each side) are all one-piece moldings, so no worries here.

As you can see in the top parts image, the main hull sphere is going to be about 9.5 inches (24 cm) in diameter. This sphere mounts to a tripod-type platform that mounts the landing legs. The completed model is going to stand well over a foot high.

This MLEV model represents a two-person spacecraft and the kit provides two crew figures. These resin figures are very nicely done with one in uniform posed to stand on the flight deck while the other is in advanced space suit. The casting of these figures is really nice and they only need some good painting to bring them to life.

As you look over the spacecraft, you'll spot some interesting features. While the craft looks like something out of the 2001: A Space Odyssey universe, the design is based upon technology that we have today, so no phasers, hyperdrives, etc. This model is really an evolution of the Lunar Module that has also been sized up for more comfort/flight duration. When you look at the model, you'll see the tripod landing gear that is positioned to stay out of the way of the four gimballed motors. The fixed 'hopper' motor is mounted in the rear between the two rear landing gear mounts.

As mentioned before, there are four attitude motors on either side of the sphere. In front, you have an airlock door that allows access to the outside, with the inner door being an overhead hatch that exits between the two crew consoles. Two vertical sleeping chambers and a storage bay are located towards the rear of the main cabin. At the rear of the cabin is another hatch, but this is an escape hatch with no airlock. There appears to be an overhead hatch with a corresponding hatch on the top of the sphere for what looks like docking ring. There is an external antenna to one side of the external overhead hatch that is similar to the automated docking systems in use today.

So now that this kit is jumping to the head of my building queue, I'm tempted to build this straight out of the box, but a few things are bothering my engineering background. The tripod landing gear is very narrow so though this craft is operating in low-gravity environments, if it doesn't land on level terrain, it is going to be too top-heavy for that narrow stance. I'm probably going to modify the lower base to allow the kits landing gear to stand out beyond the diameter of the sphere. While I'm wiring the model for lighting, I'll add an external power jack and switching to one of the updated struts. There are a few other ideas I'm considering but you'll have to monitor the progressive build review to learn more.

In the meantime, kudos to Pegasus Hobbies for a job well done! I couldn't wait to order one of these when Pegasus finally reached that point and in fact, I have two. The first with be the MLEV with the changes mentioned above which will depict the early years of man on Mars, while the second will be updated for Mars orbit or even Lunar reconnaissance/scouting missions as a two-person military spacecraft.

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