EXOS Sarge 3 Launch Goes Awry, Booster Recovered

The SARGE 3 rocket ascends from Spaceport America. (Credit: EXOS Aerospace webcast)

SPACEPORT AMERICA, NM — EXOS Aerospace’s SARGE 3 launch went awry shortly after liftoff from Spaceport America on Saturday as the suborbital rocket suffered control problems only seconds into its flight.

Liftoff appeared nominal, but then the rocket began to veer from side to side as it ascended. It was not clear from the webcast what altitude the booster reached.

SARGE rocket descending under parachute. (Credit: EXOS Aerospace)

Ground control team members lost sight of the rocket for a period. They then spotted it dumping fuel as it descended under a parachute guided by GPS.

The reusable rocket successfully touched down not far from its launch site. The rocket’s nose cone also landed in the New Mexican desert under a drogue parachute.

At the end of the company’s webcast, an official said the booster had apparently suffered a problem with its gimbal system.

EXOS, which is based in Caddo Mills, Texas, is attempting to build a business flying payloads on suborbital flights. The company also has plans for an orbital launcher that would carry small satellites.

EXOS uses technology originally pioneered by Armadillo Aerospace, a now-defunct company founded by gaming programmer John Carmack.

Armadillo Vets Form New Space Company, Promise Awesome Stuff

exos_aerospace_logoVeterans of John Carmack’s hibernating Armadillo Aerospace have formed a new company dedicated to picking up with the game developer’s side project left off.

Exos Aerospace has an ambitious agenda to build four suborbital rockets within a year, and begin development of a human-rated rocket during that same time period. The goal is to provide customers “with affordable, repeatable, and reliable commercial spaceflight with accelerated turnaround,” according to the company’s website.

Exos’ leadership includes Armadillo veterans Russell Blink and Phil Eaton, who are both listed as co-founders.

SARG is Bummed Out About Armadillo Hibernation Thing

Credit: Armadillo Aerospace
STIG rocket (Credit: Armadillo Aerospace)

Statement from SARG Chair Dr. Steven Collicott on Suborbital Research Needs
August 9, 2013

“The Suborbital Applications Researchers Group (SARG) of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation notes John Carmack’s August 2, 2013 statement regarding the hibernation of rocket development at Armadillo Aerospace. The STIG rocket appeals to researchers by providing many of the advantages characteristic of next-generation suborbital vehicles including a gentle lift-off, pressurized payload bay, late payload access before launch, rapid payload access after landing, and a lower cost than traditional sounding rockets. Armadillo’s success to date, including domestic and international payloads lofted and safely recovered on several mission development flights and a flight to 95km memorably captured on video, highlights how close their hard work has brought them to achieving an important operational research capability eagerly awaited by many scientists. The researchers of SARG encourage Armadillo and all of the new suborbital companies in their pursuit of success with investors and vehicles.”

— Dr. Steven Collicott
SARG Chair

Armadillo Out of Money, in “Hibernation”

John Carmack

As had been rumored for several months now, Armadillo Aerospace is currently inactive. Jeff Foust at NewSpace Journal reports that company is essentially out of money and is currently in “hibernation.”

“The situation that we’re at right now is that things are turned down to sort of a hibernation mode,” Carmack said Thursday evening at the QuakeCon gaming conference in Dallas. “I did spin down most of the development work for this year” after the crash, he said.


A Brief History of NewSpace Suborbital Launches

SpaceShipTwo in powered flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo in powered flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

This week, the The FAA has on its website lists of the 216 licensed and 28 permitted launches the agency has approved since 1989. They provide fascinating insights into the state of the U.S. launch industry during that period.

In this excerpt, we will examine permitted and licensed “NewSpace” suborbital launches by Armadillo Aerospace, Blue Origin, Scaled Composites and SpaceX. We will see how prizes and competitions have helped to spur on launch vehicle development, the long gaps that can follow initial spurts of progress as companies take the next steps, and how few flights some billionaires are actually getting for their money.


Carmack Offers Prize for Next Rocket Flight

Armadillo Aerospace Founder John Carmack has offered a prize for “the next ground launched rocket flight above 100,000′ with GPS log and successful recovery.” He offered $5,000 for the flight; that total is now at $8,000 with contributions by Paul Breed ($2,000) and Robin Snelson ($1,000). Carmack’s description of the prize follows after the break.


Garriott Helping Armadillo Aerospace Raise Funds

Gamesutra reports that millionaut Richard Garriott is assisting John Carmack and Armadillo Aerospace in its efforts to develop a human suborbital business:

As far as the future of space travel, Garriott sees it coming from the private sector, notably John Carmack of id Software, with his company Armadillo Aerospace. “His next stage is to be able to send people into space on a vertical takeoff vertical landing orbit,” said Garriott, who revealed that he is now helping fund Carmack’s venture by funneling in money from investors who want to eventually take a space flight.

“I am a passionate believer that humanity’s destiny is to live beyond the confines of the earth,” said Garriot. “And it’s going to be us that do it! It’s not going to be big government groups, it’s going to be people like our community.”

Armadillo’s Carmack Snipes at Rivals, Threatens to Steal Their Engineers

Fresh off a cash infusion from new partner Space Adventures, Armadillo Aerospace CEO John Carmack spent some time this weekend sniping at rivals during the NSS International Space Development Conference in Chicago. Jeff Foust reports in The Space Review:

Carmack generated a little bit of controversy when he compared Armadillo’s efforts with those by competing suborbital developers. Virgin Galactic, he suggested, would not be able to fly as cheaply as Armadillo; Virgin currently charges $200,000 for a ticket while Space Adventures is asking for about half that, $102,000. “I think they have explicitly not chosen the most cost effective solution on this,” Carmack said. “I don’t think they will be able to compete on price, eventually, but some people will prefer their experience.”


Space Access 10: John Carmack of Armadillo Aerospace

John Carmack
CEO and Founder, Armadillo Aerospace

  • Showed a promotional video highlighting company’s progress
  • Played a second video in which the vehicle lost control at 4,000 feet and fell head-over-tail to the ground

Business Update:

  • Company is growing. Taken on two more full-time team members
  • Operating profit again this year – marginally profitable small aerospace company right now
  • Couple of customers paying them decent money – “We’re very distracted by these customers.” (laughter)
  • Armadillo Aerospace was operating at the margins of what they could sustain
  • Sold his software company last year – provided Armadillo with some more financial stability…
  • What we’re flying now is pretty close to what we need for reusable suborbital vehicles. A number of upgrades needed that they are working on.
  • Hoped to have a new business deal to announce for the conference…announcement due within the next month…
  • Will be conducting tests at Texas launch site, the Oklahoma Spaceport, and Spaceport America in New Mexico


John Carmack’s Statement on NGLLC Judging Controversy

LLC Judging Protest

Statement by John Carmack
Founder, Armadillo Aerospace
Competitor, Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge

For the past couple weeks, as it became clear that Masten had a real shot at completing the level 2 Lunar Lander Challenge and bettering our landing accuracy, I have been kicking myself for not taking the competition more seriously and working on a better landing accuracy. If they pulled it off, I was prepared to congratulate them and give a bit of a sheepish mea culpa. Nobody to be upset at except myself. We could have probably made a second flight in the drizzle on our scheduled days, and once we had the roll thruster issue sorted out, our landing accuracy would have been in the 20cm range. I never thought it was worth investing in differential RTK GPS systems, because it has no bearing on our commercial operations.

The current situation, where Masten was allowed a third active day of competition, after trying and failing on both scheduled days, is different. I don’t hold anything against Masten for using an additional time window that has been offered, since we wouldn’t have passed it up if we were in their situation, but I do think this was a mistake on the judges part.


Armadillo’s Carmack: I Was Robbed by NGLLC Judges


John Carmack, founder of Armadillo Aerospace, is crying foul over the decision to give Masten Space Systems an extra day to complete its Level 2 flight for the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. He sent a email to Alan Boyle over at MSNBC:

The current situation, where Masten was allowed a third active day of competition, after trying and failing on both scheduled days, is different. I don’t hold anything against Masten for using an additional time window that has been offered, since we wouldn’t have passed it up if we were in their situation, but I do think this was a mistake on the judges part…..