Armadillo Aerospace

Armadillo Aerospace

company_name = Armadillo Aerospace
company_type = Privately held
company_slogan =
foundation = 2000
key_people = John D. Carmack
location = Mesquite, Texas
num_employees =
industry = Aerospace
products = Rocket vehicles/Space Tourism
revenue = Not disclosed
homepage = []

Armadillo Aerospace is an aerospace startup company based in Mesquite, Texas. Its initial goal is to build a manned suborbital spacecraft capable of space tourism, but it has stated long-term ambitions of orbital spaceflight. The company was founded in the year 2000, and was incorporated on January 1, 2001.

Research and development principles

The company places a strong emphasis on a rapid build and test cycle. Armadillo Aerospace has designed and built a number of different vehicles using a variety of propellants. Each design has several features in common. One is the use of modern computer technologies and electronics to simplify rocket control and reduce development costs. Another is the use of liquid propellants and VTOL to facilitate short launch-to-launch times.

X-Prize competition

The company was a competitor for the Ansari X-Prize. Armadillo's X-Prize vehicle was unorthodox among modern rockets in that instead of using stabilization fins, which complicate the design and increase drag, Armadillo used an aerodynamically unstable design, where the computer controlled jet vanes based on feedback from fibre optic gyroscopes. Armadillo has also stated a preference for simplicity and reliability over performance, which was evident in its choice of hydrogen peroxide (50% concentration in water) and methanol as a mixed monopropellant for the vehicle. A monopropellant-based engine requires only a single tank, as well as greatly simplified plumbing and other hardware. Since the completion of the X-Prize, however, they have opted to switch to liquid oxygen because of difficulties with peroxide catalysts and the lack of availability of high-concentration peroxide in the United States for small companies.

In June 2004, Armadillo successfully demonstrated a computer-controlled Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) flight of its prototype vehicle, becoming the third unmanned rocket in history to have done so, after the McDonnell Douglas DC-X and Japan's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) Reusable Vehicle Test (RVT).

Wirefly X-Prize Cup 2006

Armadillo Aerospace competed in the 2006 Wirefly X PRIZE Cup. Armadillo Aerospace was the only competitor in the Lunar Lander Challenge. The company took two similar vehicles, Pixel and Texel, to the event. The vehicles narrowly failed to win the Level 1 prize, after making three dramatic attempts totalling over 5 minutes in the air [ [ Armadillo Aerospace - News Archive ] ] , finally crashing out on the final attempt. Persistent landing problems were the main cause of failure, with the undercarriage breaking several times, and landing slightly off the pad on one occasion due to guidance issues. These flights were a highlight of the Wirefly X-prize cup.

Quad vehicle

The quad vehicle design is pressure fed in blow down mode from an initial pressure of 320 psi for level 1 (400 psi level 2). The roll thrusters are cross-fed by gas drawn from ullage space of the opposite tank. The vehicle is able to transfer propellant through connecting pipes between opposite tanks by controlling ullage pressures with the thrusters; this helps it balance, minimizing gas use. The main engine has two-axis thrust vectoring. The vehicle is fully computer controlled; with guidance from GPS and fiber optic gyros.

Wirefly X-Prize Cup 2007

Armadillo Aerospace competed in the 2007 Lunar Lander Challenge event in the Wirefly X-Prize Cup 2007.


During testing one of the two Quad vehicles (named Texel) crashed in tethered flight after a guidance issue caused the vehicle to rapidly gain altitude until 3 separate flight termination procedures were activated at approximately 20-30 feet. The vehicle fell, and the impact broke open one of the alcohol tanks and a large fireball engulfed the vehicle. [ [ Texel crash video] ] The vehicle was irreparably damaged, and only its sister Pixel could compete in the upcoming event.The plan was to have the first module (of the next generation modular design) compete at level 1, and have Pixel compete at level 2 challenge. [ [ Armadillo Aerospace - News Archive ] ]


In the level 1 events, Armadillo's craft MOD (actually, module #1) logged several attempts, including several successful first leg flights, but was unable to complete the return trip during any attempt.

On its first attempt, a clogged igniter orifice prevented ignition. On the second attempt, the first leg flight was perfect; increased guidance and control capabilities allowed the module to, in Carmack's words, 'burn the X-mark off the target pad'. The return leg was delayed slightly, because the igniter had clogged again. When the second leg was attempted, a 'hard start' cracked the graphite combustion chamber. As the vehicle was still flying, Carmack flew the crippled vehicle through the course as quickly as possible and hovered 2-3 meters above the landing pad. With only a few seconds remaining in the required flight time, the damaged combustion chamber cracked again, which caused the vehicle to tilt enough to trigger a computer abort. the vehicle performed an auto-land, but the tilt caused the module to tip over on landing after only 82 seconds in the air.

The second attempt began with another perfect first leg, but the return was marred by another hard start. Seeing that the engine was badly damaged (although flying), the team commanded an abort. The module landed back on the pad after only a few seconds.

On the final attempt, MOD suffered a violent "hard start", resulting in engine explosion. The violence of the explosion embedded a piece of the graphite chamber in the ground 64 meters from the launch pad, and ended the attempts for this year's prize. [cite news| url=| title=Armadillo Aerospace News Archive | first=John| last=Carmack] [cite news| url=| title=Armadillo Setback As Vehicle Flames Out| first=Leonard| last=David|| date=2007-10-28]

Rocket Racing League

Armadillo Aerospace engines will be used in Rocket Racing League planes according to a recent announcement [ [] ] .

Staff and funding

Armadillo is headed and has been largely funded by John Carmack, a developer of computer games including the "Doom" and "Quake series". All of its employees (including Carmack) have other, full-time jobs and contribute their efforts twice weekly to Armadillo on a voluntary basis. Armadillo has a relatively small budget and is not supported by aerospace companies or agencies like NASA, ESA, or Boeing. Armadillo Aerospace has publicly declared itself fully self-funded. []

In February 2006, Carmack stated that the program so far had cost slightly over $2 million. [ [ RLV and Space Transport News » spending ] ] Even by the standards of X-Prize candidates, this is a low budget. Scaled Composites is estimated to have spent $25 million on its SpaceShipOne development program.

On August 8, 2006, Armadillo Aerospace announced that it had reached a sponsorship deal with NVIDIA. While details were sparse, John Carmack said, "There is a chance at this point that I may have written the last personal check I need to for Armadillo." [ [ Armadillo Aerospace - News Archive ] ]

On April 2, 2008, Carmack offered an updated figure of "total cost to date, about $3.5 million". He estimated that another $2 million would be needed to achieve a manned flight to 100 km using Armadillo's modular design in a "six-pack" configuration. [ [ Armadillo Aerospace - News Archive] ]

The company has a mascot armadillo named Widget.

Future research

Carmack has stated in his monthly reports and in forum posts that he expects his path to an orbital vehicle to include modular rockets similar to OTRAG technology. Lutz Kayser, the founding engineer of OTRAG, visited Armadillo in May, 2006 and loaned Carmack some of their original research hardware.

"I have been corresponding with Lutz for a few months now, and I have learned quite a few things. I seriously considered an OTRAG style massive-cluster-of-cheap-modules orbital design back when we had 98% peroxide (assumed to be a biprop with kerosene), and I have always considered it one of the viable routes to significant reduction in orbital launch costs. After really going over the trades and details with Lutz, I am quite convinced that this is the lowest development cost route to significant orbital capability. Eventually, reusable stages will take over, but I actually think that we can make it all the way to orbit on our current budget by following this path. The individual modules are less complicated than our current vehicles, and I am becoming more and more fond of high production methods over hand crafter prototypes." -- June 2006 Armadillo Aerospace Update [ [ June 2006 Armadillo Aerospace Update.] ]


ee also

* List of private spaceflight companies - A compiled list of private spaceflight companies
* Space Fellowship - Hosts the official Armadillo Aerospace Forum

External links

* [ Armadillo Aerospace homepage]
* [ Project update with NVIDIA sponsorship information]
* [ Project update and video of successful VTOL test flight]
* [ Project update on vehicle loss]
* [ Project update discussing intent to compete in lunar lander Centennial Challenge] (March 1, 2006)
* [ Official Armadillo Aerospace Forum]

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