Armadillo Out of Money, in “Hibernation”

John_Carmack
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.

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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.

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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

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The Space Review: Can NewSpace Meet All the Expectations?

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In the The Space Review this week, a look at some things on the rise and others that have taken falls:

Taylor Dinerman questions whether the nascent NewSpace industry will be able to fulfill the hopes placed on it by the Augustine Commission.

Jeff Foust reports on the controversial end of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge.

Dwayne Day looks at how the TV series Defying Gravity fell to Earth before finishing its 13-episode run in the United States.

Jeff Foust reviews the latest book to examine the debate over Pluto’s demotion from planetary status.

Masten, Armadillo Awarded Prizes in DC Ceremony

L-R: George Nield, Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation, FAA; Charlie Bolden, NASA Administrator; Doug Comstock, Director, Innovative Partnerships Program, NASA; David Masten, CEO, Masten Space Systems; Phil Eaton, VP, Operations, Armadillo Aerospace; Rep. Ralph Hall, Texas, Ranking Member, Science & Technology Committee; Peter Diamandis, Chairman & CEO, X PRIZE Foundation; Mitch Waldman, VP, Advanced Programs & Technology, Northrop Grumman
L-R: George Nield, Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation, FAA; Charlie Bolden, NASA Administrator; Doug Comstock, Director, Innovative Partnerships Program, NASA; David Masten, CEO, Masten Space Systems; Phil Eaton, VP, Operations, Armadillo Aerospace; Rep. Ralph Hall, Texas, Ranking Member, Science & Technology Committee; Peter Diamandis, Chairman & CEO, X PRIZE Foundation; Mitch Waldman, VP, Advanced Programs & Technology, Northrop Grumman

X PRIZE PRESS RELEASE

Today, the X PRIZE Foundation along with NASA hosted an awards ceremony to culminate the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander X PRIZE Challenge (NGLLXPC). Masten Space Systems, led by David Masten, was awarded the top $1 million prize, while Armadillo Aerospace, led by id Software founder John Carmack took home the second place prize of $500,000.
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Unreasonable Rocket Ends Quest for Lunar Lander Prize

Reports out of Cantil indicate that Unreasonable Rocket has ended its quest to win the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. During a test flight using a crane and tether, Unreasonable’s Silver Ball lander oscillated, broke the tether, and fell back onto the launch pad on its side. A leg punctured the fuel tank, damaging the vehicle and preventing another flight attempt on the last day of the competition.

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Masten Looks Toward Commercial Operations

Masten Space Systems successfully qualified for first place in Level Two of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge Wednesday. Flying a brand new vehicle named XA-0.1E (nicknamed Xoie), Masten demonstrated their ability to build, debug and fly a vehicle on a very short timeline.

“To come from not flying at all last year to qualifying for level one AND level two of the LLC this year shows how far our technology has progressed,” Masten Space Systems CEO David Masten said. “After a short vacation we will start modifying Xoie for commercial payloads and begin work on Xoie’s successor.”

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First Unreasonable Rocket Flies Briefly, Tips Over on Side

Unreasonable Rocket’s first and second attempts to launch its Blue Ball lunar lander fizzled today. In both attempts, the vehicle rose briefly off the pad, hovered unevenly, settled back down to the surface, and tipped over on its side.

Company CEO Paul Breed and his son, Paul, have called it a day in order to make repairs to the lander. The company has additional launch windows on Saturday at its site in Cantil, Calif. The first window opens at 10 a.m. PDT.

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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.

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Armadillo’s Carmack: I Was Robbed by NGLLC Judges

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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…..

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Masten Qualifies for Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Prize

UPDATE: Masten completed safing and storing its Xoie lander in the time allotted. So, the team has now qualified to win the $1 million prize for Level 2. We are awaiting word on landing accuracy to see if Masten has leaped ahead of Armadillo Aerospace for first prize. Unreasonable Rocket is set to make its attempts today and tomorrow.

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Masten Space Systems has completed a return leg of its attempt to win the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. Judges are now measuring the landing accuracy on the return flight. As soon as they finish, Masten will have six minutes to safe the Xoie vehicle and load it onto a truck. This is the last step in the process, which requires teams to make two flights within 2 hours and 15 minutes.