Armadillo Aerospace is an aerospace startup company based in Mesquite, Texas. Its initial goal is to build a manned suborbital Ansari X-Prize-class spacecraft, but it has stated long-term ambitions of orbital spaceflight. The company was founded in the year 2000, but was incorporated on January 1, 2001.
Armadillo is led (and largely funded) by John Carmack, a developer of computer games including the Doom series and Quake series. All of its employees (including Carmack) have other, full-time jobs and contribute their efforts twice weekly to Armadillo on a voluntary basis. Armadillo has a relatively small budget and is not supported by aerospace companies or agencies like NASA, ESA, or Boeing. Armadillo Aerospace publicly has declared itself fully self-funded.
In February 2006, Carmack stated that the program so far had cost slightly over 2 million dollars. Even by the standards of X-Prize candidates, this is a low budget. Scaled Composites is estimated to have spent $25 million on its SpaceShipOne development program.
Research and development principles
The company places a strong emphasis on a rigorous fabrication and incremental testing regime for flight hardware and has extensive experience with a variety of propellants. It uses modern computer technologies and electronics to simplify rocket control, to reduce the costs of development, and to enable short launch-to-launch times.
The company was a competitor for the Ansari X-Prize. Armadillo's X-Prize vehicle was unorthodox among modern rockets in that instead of using stabilization fins, which complicate the design and increase drag, Armadillo used an aerodynamically unstable design, where the computer controlled jet vanes based on feedback from fiber optic gyroscopes. Armadillo also stated a preference for simplicity and reliability over performance, which was evident in its choice of hydrogen peroxide (50 % concentration in water) and methanol as a mixed monopropellant for the vehicle. (Recently, however, Carmack opted to switch to liquid oxygen because of difficulties with peroxide catalysts.)
In June 2004, Armadillo successfully demonstrated a computer-controlled Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) flight of its prototype vehicle, becoming the third rocket in history to have done so, after the McDonnell Douglas DC-X and Japan's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) Reusable Vehicle Test (RVT).
On August 8, 2004, a test flight of Armadillo's prototype vehicle ran out of fuel and crashed, destroying the vehicle. The costs of constructing a new vehicle were approximately US$40,000. In March 2005, during a hover test of the new vehicle, the engine failed, resulting in damage to the vehicle. Armadillo subsequently abandoned its attempt for the X-Prize, but has not stopped development of its vehicle.