Armadillo Aerospace Lunar Vehicle

Texas-based Armadillo Aerospace Company has developed a lunar spacecraft, which was demonstrated at the Wirefly X Prize Cup, held this year in Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. The Wirefly Cup is the result of a partnership between the X Prize Foundation and the State of New Mexico, aimed at building the world’s first true rocket festival. At the event, Armadillo’s spacecraft competed in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, which was sponsored by Google.

The challenge consisted of two parts – in level one, the teams’ spacecrafts attempted to fly 50 meters vertically and land on a flat surface, twice; in level two, they were required to fly 50 meters vertically, 50 meters horizontally, and then land on a rocky moon-like surface, also in two successive attempts. NASA announced it would award the winner of the first task $350,000, and the first team to complete the second task was promised a $1 million prize.

Armadillo’s aircraft, called “MOD”, successfully completed the first try at level 1 within 90 seconds. However, on its second try, just before landing, the spacecraft tipped over in a cloud of dust. MOD developers say this happened after the igniter was damaged during the first flight, causing a rather hard start of the second flight. After four attempts at the first task, only seven seconds prevented Armadillo Aerospace from winning the Lunar Lander Challenge. “This weekend, we’ve had more problems than we’ve had in the last six months. We know what went wrong, but not why,” said Neil Milburn, Vice President of Armadillo Aerospace. “The Cup has given us an opportunity to show what we can do in front of multiple audiences, which we would not have been able to do otherwise. We know we’ll be back again, and we’ll nail it next time.”

MOD, a 12-feet tall and 8-feet wide computer-controlled liquid oxygen rocket vehicle, was the only competitor at the challenge. None of the other teams qualified to participate in the final event, since they all hadn’t complied with the Federal Aviation Administration safety requirements and because their spacecrafts weren’t technically ready in time. Even though it did not win the challenge, the judges were very impressed with MOD’s performance. “This was a weekend of outstanding competition,” said Dr. William Gaubatz, Chief Judge of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. “We believe Armadillo set some records in terms of reusability. We hope they carry on and inspire other teams to shoot for the prize and new records.”

Armadillo Aerospace was founded in 2000 by John Carmack, a widely recognized figure in the gaming industry, known for the creation of games like Doom and Quake. In 2006, the company’s “Pixel” was the only craft to participate in the X Prize Cup, just like this year. Carmack says his team will continue to work on the spacecraft, which he hopes will win the next X Prize event.

TFOT has recently covered the “Phoenix Mars Lander”, a robotic spacecraft that will be used for a space exploration mission to Mars – you can find the article here. TFOT also covered the “New ShepardVTOVL Vehicle test flight in 2006. The vehicle was built by Blue Origin together with the American company founded by the billionaire Jeffrey Bezos who also founded Amazon.com in 1994.

You can find more information about the X Prize Challenge here. Videos and more images of the MOD can be found here.