Saturday, May 15, 2010

Rockwall-based Armadillo Aerospace signs deal with
Space Adventures to sell suborbital rocket flights for $102,000

rocket armadillo b.JPG
credit: Armadillo Aerospace / Rocket Racing Inc

With a target price of $100,000 per ticket or less, launch vehicle developer Armadillo Aerospace and Rocket Racing League company Rocket Racing Inc are aiming to offer suborbital flights from New Mexico's Spaceport America from 2010

The image above is the rocket concept the two companies have released to the media

Rocket Racing Inc chief executive Granger Whitelaw says: "The price of space is coming down to Earth. And thanks to Armadillo's ships and New Mexico's spaceport, human beings will be treated to the most stellar views in the galaxy."
See more images of the joint venture's concept vehicle, some comment by me and Virgin Galactic's reaction in the extended portion of this blog post

click on all the images in this blog post to see larger versions in the same browser window

rocket armadillo c.JPG

rocket armadillo a.JPG
credit: Armadillo Aerospace / Rocket Racing Inc

This design had been on Armadillo's website for some time although just checking the site now it has disappeared

I was expecting something new for the concept. It is interesting that this has come out after the non-arrival of a reportedly "imminent" deal between Spaceport America and Virgin Galactic

While Armadillo has "proven" technology with its Rocket Racer engine I am not entirely convinced that that powerplant, or a cluster of seven of them, could really push even a two-person transparent capsule to above 100km

For a start the design above is not very aerodynamic and will waste a lot of fuel just trying to overcome that hurdle in the first 30,000ft (9,150m) of atmosphere but they also want a vertical powered descent with all the structural inefficiencies and fuel requirements that will bring

I don't understand why they didn't opt for this design (see below) and build in a transparent section, assuming any existing transparent material is going to be able to cope with the aerothermodynamic loading on ascent

missile concept armadillo.jpg
credit: Armadillo Aerospace 

Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn's reaction is, "...for Armadillo/Rocket Racing league, good luck to them"

Coming back to the whole Spaceport America involvement, there has been very slow progress towards Virgin signing an anchor tenant contract for some time with a memorandum of agreement inked a while back

The New Mexico government even made getting an anchor tenant part of its legislation for the creation of the spaceport and with the MOA Virgin seemed destined to fill that role, but are they?

Contacting Whitehorn this evening (UK time) he emailed me to say, of the new 'imminent' agreement, "this is the new agreement for the actual lease and facilities to the Fosters/URS design now finalised, which will supersede the original MOA."

One has to wonder though if the New Mexico government is concerned that they will have an utterely empty $225 million spaceport, cum white elephant, on their hands if Virgin Galactic, which rolled out an empty WhiteKnightTwo mothership in July, doesn't start flying in 14-months time. They could still be test flying SpaceShipTwo in 2010 at Mojave air and space port

I also wonder about the likelihood of Armadillo test flying so soon. It seems rather challenging, to say the least, for any company to go from a concept that has a habitable section that has untested technologies, sub-systems, let alone a proof of concept test article, and no successful flights of anything that could be called a prototype propulsion module, to flight tests inside of 12-months, assuming they make their first flght in December 2009

So the Armadillo, Rocket Racing, New Mexico government link up probably is a step to shore up political support for the spaceport, to give that impression of a growing list of tenants that includes Up Aerospace and maybe even the UK's Starchaser Industries

Being here in the UK and not having anyone in New Mexico to attend the press conference on our behalf, I have submitted a bunch of questions by email. Let's see what they say!

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