Armadillo Aerospace is one of the small startup companies that has a goal of building a manned suborbital spacecraft for space tourism and later offering orbital space flight. Their approach to rocket design is much like software design. They use a rapid test cycle so that everything they design and build, they can quickly see if it works. Their vehicles which are quad-like have a very different design than most rockets now, but they still believe in their simple design.
Courtesy of Armadillo Aerosapce
(Creative Commons) (link).
It is a privately owned and run company. It was founded in 2000 in Mesquite, Texas by John D. Carmack, who is also a computer game programmer. On January 1, 2001, the company was officially incorporated. All of the people who work at for Armadillo Aerospace are volunteers. It is a group of around 10 people and an armadillo named Widget.
Armadillo Aerospace first competed in the Ansari X-Prize competition. Their vehicle showed their preference for simplicity and reliability over performance. Their vehicle did not have the usual stabilizing fins because it complicates the design and increases drag. Instead they had computer controlled jet vanes based on feedback from fiber optic gyroscopes. Also they used hydrogen peroxide and methanol as a mixed fuel because it only requires a single fuel tank. Since the X-prize, they changed their fuel because of difficulties in getting this type of fuel.
In June 2004 Armadillo Aerospace successfully demonstrated a computer controlled vertical take-off and landing. This became the third unmanned rocket to do this in history.
In 2006, Armadillo Aerospace competed in the Wirefly X-Prize Cup. They were the only entry in the Lunar Lander Challenge. They entered two vehicles, Pixel and Texel, and they almost won the Level 1 prize. They made three attempts of hovering in the air which lasted a total of five minutes. But unfortunately they crashed on the last try. The Pixel/Texel vehicles are quad vehicles that are 75 inches by 75 inches.
In 2007, Armadillo Aerospace entered Pixel into the Wirefly X-Prize Cup in the Lunar Lander Challenge again. Texel crashed in one of its test flights earlier and was irreparably damaged so it could not compete. Unfortunately, Pixel 1 did not win. They were seven seconds away from winning the $350,000 prize. Armadillo tried four times to win and on their second time they were the closest to the winning time. The lander left the ground for a short period of time but had to end the flight because of safety reasons.
After the X-Prize Armadillo Aerospace plans to start designing modular rockets so that they can fly higher instead of just hovering. They think that they will be able to fly 100,000 feet or more within a year. Even with high drag due to the modular cluster design, they believe that their simple and flexible design will work. They plan to go slower through the thick parts of the atmosphere and get to higher speeds in higher altitudes.