Home / News

News Archive

What we've been up to for the past 8+ months

January 27, 2010 notes by Phil Eaton:

Time flies, and so does Armadillo!

The last full update was on May 5th of Last year. It feels like an eternity has passed with enough milestones to construct a monument!

List of accomplishments since the last update:

  1. Received the first ever Waiver for Class III rocket flights on 5-29-09.

  2. Flew the first flight ever under a Class III waiver on 5-30-09.

  3. Hosted NASA dignitaries for the flight of the Methane Module.

  4. Conducted the first Boosted and Return Trajectory in front of NASA.

  5. Returned the Armadillo powered Rocket Racer to flight.

  6. Filed second Class III waiver application for LLC flights up to 200,000 pound seconds.

  7. Worked with AST on real time Maximum Range Calculations.

  8. Prepared Level 2 LLC vehicle with 3 different tank sets and tested under tether.

    1. Lincoln Composites

    2. SCI

    3. Microcosm/Scorpious (Go Scorpius!) Awesome tanks, even better service!

  9. Built Lunar Pad and new pad for Boost and Return flights.

  10. Flew Tethered flights over the Simulated Lunar Surface.

  11. First flight to the moon, in flight abort. “We lost the moon…”

  12. 2 successful flights to the moon with Practice MOD.

  13. Hosted Level 2 LLC and successfully satisfied the flight requirements in spite of weather!

  14. Watched Masten try for the Level 1 LLC… Nice flight!

  15. Watched Masten Make qualified flights for Level 1 LLC, I wonder if they will be ready…

  16. Started Making Boosted Hop Flights:

    1. 100 meters

    2. 200 meters

  17. Watched Masten struggle and almost qualify for Level 2 LLC, (Really Sweating!)

  18. Masten is allowed to fly on a 3rdday on Paul Breed’s scheduled attempt day?

  19. Sad and confused…

  20. Masten puts up 2 excellent flights, beating Armadillo’s landing Accuracy!

  21. More Boosted Hop Flights:

    1. 300 meters (1000 feet)

    2. 600 meters (2000 feet)

    3. 900 meters (3000 feet)

    4. 1200 meters (4000 feet)

  22. The Birds, chaotic motion study

  23. Regulatory woes… Many issues, many delays, Especially hard work for AST. (Great Job!)

  24. Rocket Racing League Takes full ownership of rocket operations!

  25. Rocket Racer Tail 2 Arrives… Propulsion Module install.

  26. Purdue University students begin SPEAR, Students Performing Experiments on Armadillo Rockets.

  27. More Engine Development…

  28. Rocket Racer T2 begins ground tests.

  29. Rocket Racer T2 begins Taxi Tests.

  30. Coming Soon…

  31. Miscellaneous Media

Received and flew under the First Class 3 Rocket Flight Waiver:

After starting the process in an unofficial sense in Mid January, the actual waiver to fly Class 3 rocket flights at the Caddo Mills Airport was received from the FAA on 5-29-09. We had all of our ducks in a row waiting for that moment, and minutes after receiving the waiver, we filed the appropriate NOTAM’s and made the first flight under that waiver the very next day to close out our Methane Module milestone requirements for the NASA contract.

We thought it would be an easy process to secure a waiver rather than a permit for conducting flights at our home facility. This proved to be an incorrect assumption for several reasons. First, it had never been done under the new requirements, and second, neither we nor AST had any clue of exactly how it was supposed to work when we got down to the fine details. Fortunately, many of the same people that had reviewed our permits in previous years were involved in the waiver process as well.

We managed to plow through most of the major issues, but the first waiver written was severely limited in comparison to our expectations. It did allow us to conduct the first few flights with relative ease, but we were limited to the altitude we could fly because of an increased requirement in the radius on the ground for flights above 300 feet growing to over 2000 feet instead of the 1500 feet we had expected.

This all meant that we would have to file another waiver application for the Level 2 LLC flights and Boost and Return trajectories to over 300 feet, unless we found a different location from which to fly and obtained special permission from persons whose property fell within that radius.

Meanwhile, the first free flight to be conducted at Caddo Mills was scheduled to begin. We had the full crew available for that flight which was a luxury we would not have for the remainder of the summer all the way through the Lunar Lander Challenge.

This was a pivotal flight because the final payment milestone of the NASA contract hung on this one flight. It is hard to explain the feeling of anticipation and nervous energy that surrounds you when you prepare for such a flight. It is much the same as conducting flights for the Lunar Lander Challenge, except that this was for a customer.

It had been so long since we conducted a free flight that we nearly forgot what it felt like.

In spite of the exciting nature, it all went well. There were issues to work through as there always seem to be. Practice and the subsequent experience one gets while conducting dozens if not hundreds of test cycles kicks in to make everything move forward until there is a legitimate reason to stop. After the flight we noticed that we had used an excessive amount of LOX in comparison to fuel and thus decided not to continue with additional testing with that engine.

Hosted NASA Team and other dignitaries for Demonstration flights of the Methane Mod:

Shortly after the first flight of the Methane Mod, we scheduled a Saturday for NASA to bring their contingency of media specialists and project team members, managers and interns to witness firsthand what was happening in Caddo Mills.

We managed to put up a good flight that lasted about 60 seconds with a plan to perform the first boosted hop trajectory immediately afterward. After the first flight, everyone came out to the pad area and took their photos of the vehicle with lots of good group shots. NASA photographers put together a very nice video of the event. Unfortunately, I was running the Armadillo video and I had problems with the on-board video transmission. If the transmitter was working, the recording units would fail. If the recording units were working, the transmitter would fail.

(WMV, 12.8MB)

Conducted the first Boost and Return Trajectory in front of NASA.

The Boosted hop went well but we had programmed in a very conservative profile for the first attempt. The flight was shorter than anticipated, but all of the performance values fell right in line with what we expected.

We could have done a 3rd flight, but John said it would only be showing off at that point and decided to just have a nice information exchange for the next hour or so with our guests.

One amazing discovery was that the hot rocket plume on black Texas mud makes white glass. Figure that one out!

Returned the Armadillo-powered Rocket Racer to flight.

Finally time to get the rocket racer back in the air!

As much as we like the facility in Oklahoma, the North Texas Regional Airport in Denison is much closer. This is still just over an hour from the Caddo Mills facility, but if needed, we could be home at night with family.

Texas weather does tend to have an impact on these things though, and unfortunately, we spent a couple days watching weather blow through intermittently. Finally we caught a break and were able to get another 7 flights in the air.

On Flight 14, test Pilot Len Fox started performing the first few aerobatic maneuvers of the rocket racer. This seemed a good place to do this since he has actually performed in international aerobatic competition on that very airport.

Over the next few flights Len developed a very nice pattern conducive to crowd pleasing aerobatics mixed with the acceleration performance and noise of a rocket. Each flight would have approximately 8 ignition events at show center, finishing with residual LOX dump and a glide back to a landing.

Both time and weather turned for the worse, and that phase of testing came to an end.

(Large WMV, 16.3MB)     (Small WMV, 4.1MB)     (Small MP4, 12.7MB)

Filed second Class III waiver application for LLC flights.

The first class III waiver Armadillo had was only good for a single propellant load, that is to say a normal Level 1 LLC flight. In order to fly the Level 2 vehicle that came extremely close to the 200,000 pound second limit, we had to obtain a special waiver for that vehicle.

Many of the issues we faced with the first waiver were taken care of, but there were new sets of challenges.

Worked with AST on real time Maximum Range Calculation.

One of the main challenges was the theorized explosive equivalency of a vehicle crashing with LOX and Alcohol on board. Oddly enough, there was no consideration of what the potential mix ratios would be, only a downgrading percentage based on the propellant combination, and the altitude from which it would fall.

As it turns out, the worst case debris range came from an abort shortly after liftoff when the bulk of the propellant still remained on board. After several conference calls and a compromise that entailed John adding an instantaneous maximum range calculation as abort criteria, we finally received the waiver. This limited the maximum range of the vehicle at any altitude and position so that the debris range calculated by the AST team would not travel outside of the 1500 foot radius we had available.

Prepared Level 2 LLC vehicle with 3 different tank sets and tested under tether.

As the time approached for Armadillo to conduct the contest flights, we had gone through 3 different possible combinations of external pressurization tanks. 3 small Structural Composites tanks, 2 very heavy Lincoln Composites tanks, or 2 extremely light weight tanks from Microcosm.

We had conducted some flights with the SCI tanks and the Lincoln Composites tanks and were just over the 200,000 pound second limit under tether. We calculated that we could make it work, but our residual propellant would be virtually zero at 181 seconds which did not leave us any margin for error on landing.

Microcosm was in a position to be able to conduct a very quick turn on 2 tanks that would be custom made for us to place on the Level 2 vehicle. In honor of their participation and extremely quick turn on the tanks, we dubbed the Level 2 vehicle the “Armadillo Scorpius Rocket”.

They were able to turn 2 excellent quality tanks from order to delivery in less than 2 weeks. We feel we have an excellent partnership with these guys moving forward, and they certainly have the ability to move at Armadillo’s pace!

During this testing we developed a few procedures that they will be able to use to improve pressurization times of their tanks for aerospace applications. They also passed along to us some of their expertise that we will keep well into the future.

After conducting the first series of tests we had enough margin for 188 to 190 seconds with propellant to spare. Overall, the Microcosm/Scorpius tanks saved us a whopping 65 lbs!

During our testing on Labor day since everyone else was out at a barbecue, we put a few hot dogs on some fresh and clean stainless welding rod in the ground near the test pad. As it turns out, 199,960 pound seconds of rocket blast from 30 feet perfectly cooks a hot dog in 182 seconds… There may be a few bits of concrete embedded in the leading edge of the hot dog though!

(WMV, 15MB)

Built Lunar Pad and new pad for Boost and Return flights.

Meanwhile in parallel several things were happening. One was the construction of the new pads for the LLC event. Based on our earlier tests over the Texas black dirt, we were tempted just to pour a 3 foot diameter flat spot in the center of a 10 meter diameter circle marked with something pounded into the ground at 1 foot intervals. Craters would have just been holes dug in the dirt, and the rocks would have been the same as we used, they would have just been set on the dirt rather than on a pad. The X-Prize folks were intrigued with the idea and I think they would have approved it if needed, but as it turned out, we received approval for the pads quickly and were able to move forward with concrete instead.

(The 2009 Lunar Lander Challenge update shows photos of the pad construction)

Flew Tethered flights over the Simulated Lunar Surface.

We were able to fly tethered flights over the moon several days after the pads were poured. This would help us set up the on board video system that John would use for fine tuning his position once over the pad.

First flight to the moon, in flight abort. “We lost the moon…”

The first Practice flight of the workhorse mod from Pad “A” to the Lunar Pad was moving along well until just over the lunar pad we saw the engine begin to spit stainless in the plume. John commanded the Mod down from an altitude of 12 meters, but at 3 meters it had eroded a hole in the side of the nozzle and the resultant thrust vector began to push us away from the pad. The erosion was compounding with every second, and finally the rocket could not maintain the appropriate angle and went into an abort mode.

The vehicle fell in soft dirt from an altitude of about 12 feel. Everything worked as it should, and there was very little damage.

(WMV, 4.5MB)

2 successful flights to the moon with Practice MOD.

We reconfigured the Mod quickly and resumed flight testing. This was quickly followed by 2 more successful translations in which all went well.

Hosted Level 2 LLC and successfully satisfied the flight requirements in spite of weather!

The day had finally arrived for Armadillo to host the Level 2 Lunar Lander Challenge at home. Murphy says that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. We had beaten him in most regards when it came to the rocket in recent days, but in terms of the weather, we were dependant on the hand of God alone.

The rain clouds gathered and began to sprinkle on the crowd of several hundred. Some came from town and some from several states away. Fortunately we had everything roped off in the large hanger for just this contingency.

It did afford us all the luxury of spending some time with family and friends before we made the flights, which after all was said and done, turned out just fine.

We experienced a 6 hour rain delay, and had permission from the FAA to fly as long as we stayed below cloud level. This meant that we had to have a minimum ceiling of about 200 feet in order to have a reasonable margin.

We pulled out the vehicle and lined up for a countdown while we headed to the pads. Spirits in the crowd had not been dampened in spite of the rain, and hopes were running high as we were finally executing as practiced.

Once at the pads, the rain started up again, but all indications were that the rain would pass in minutes so we charged ahead.

All went well during the first propellant loading ops until we were about to disconnect the high pressure helium fill line. We had a rather large helium leak coming out of the Swedgeloc valve. With everything still under pressure, we managed to fix the leak and proceed, all while still on the clock.

All cameras rolling, everyone in position. I was stationed near the landing pad with Matt’s HD camera. He had given me a crash course on operating all of his cameras since that weekend was the one weekend he would not be able to attend. The vehicle came up just as planned and burned off a half minute or so of propellant before proceeding skyward. Once translation started though, I could see that the vehicle was rolling counter clockwise and not correcting. I knew it would not affect positional accuracy, but still I knew something was not quite right.

The vehicle began the descent phase over the pad and hovered over the moon for about 30 seconds at close range. John began to try his fine tuning procedure using the visual cues we had developed before, but instead of getting closer to center on every adjustment, it got further from center. Confused and frustrated, John set the vehicle down at 182 seconds.

The judges measured us over a meter from the center of the pad. We discovered that one set of roll thrusters had stopped working during the flight and thus the vehicle was allowed to roll slowly. The on board video did benefit from this, unfortunately the downward looking cameras John used for accuracy positioning were now backwards on the screen so that every movement he made was moving the rocket 180 degrees from the intended direction.

This caused several problems. The fill and pressure lines were now on the opposite side of the vehicle from where we anticipated, and thus we got off the checklist in order to accommodate the new procedure on the fly. Unfortunately the diverter caps were not installed on the regulated pressure lines coming out of the high pressure tank, and the high pressure tank although down to only 180 PSI was not vented.

When we started the checklist for the return flight, the actuator check revealed our own need for the checklists and why we need them. 2 hoses on actuating the high pressure regulator managed to swing through the air and catch a couple of the guys unsuspecting before they could get out of range. Injuries were small to the body yet painful to the ego. Still we continued forward with our goal in sight.

The remainder of that operation was uneventful. Everyone was in flight positions, and the rocket finally came to life for the journey back from our simulated lunar outpost.

The very same position I had manned during the first flight was now experiencing a significant increase in sound energy since the rocket at liftoff was producing nearly 4X the thrust it had at landing.

The air was thumping my chest as the rocket hovered peacefully just off the surface, finally climbing skyward heading for home on the final leg of the Level 2 journey.

3 minutes, or even 2 hours is such a small slice of time that one would hardly notice the passing on any ordinary day. On this day however, a journey that was started by 9 Armadillos many years before had this team’s emotions stirred with an intensity that matched the roar of Scorpius gracefully moving through the sky.

The past few years had brought Armadillo to a unique place of the Lunar Lander challenge being little more than a distraction along the path of beginning work for our customers. Still, past shortcomings in previous years haunting the memory drove us to once again fly the challenge. This was no longer just for the money, but for the pride of the accomplishment.

As time would tell in the weeks that followed, the pride of the accomplishment of having completed the task first would have to suffice for much more than we thought.

Scorpius finally came down over the targeted position, and without making any adjustment to the GPS final position, came to rest within a foot of the target in the center of the pad.

(See the 2009 Lunar Lander Challenge update for full media coverage)

Watched Masten try for the Level 1 LLC… Nice flight!

With hardly any time to rest, the following week held the excitement of watching the Masten Team fly their vehicle in an attempt to qualify for the second place level 1 Lunar Lander Challenge. All those years of watching Armadillo from a distance, they finally have viable hardware to fly.

I am jealous in a way. I wish we could have had our shop only a mile or so away with all our tools, and all our spare parts near. The first year we discovered just how much difficulty it adds to have to travel and conduct operations in a location removed from home base. I am also jealous because I wish that during the first few years we would have had the option to say, “Ah well, we can give it another shot next month…”

The upside is, Armadillo is now prepared as well as anyone in the world to take the show on the road. We have the X-Prize folks and the first few years of LLC to thank for that.

Meanwhile, Masten puts up a beautiful flight in their first attempt at Level 1. The rocket looks great, and significantly different than their first few designs I might add. From the look of it, they settled on an excellent design, and applying their engine to that design has worked well for them. The landing was so precise, that was actually the moment I became nervous. Unfortunately, they had a problem in the engine and had the good sense to fix the problem and wait until the next window rather than risk the vehicle on a chance that it might work. That would come later!

Watched Masten Make qualified flights for Level 1 LLC, Getting Nervous…

What seemed like a very short time later, Masten’s second Level 1 window arrives. This time everything performs so well that they nail the landing accuracy to less than 6”. The flight profile still causes a certain degree of alarm after watching the Armadillo vehicle for so many years, but I have no argument with the method. Kudos to Dave and crew for finally getting everything whipped into shape!

Still, do they have enough time to get their Level 2 vehicle ready before their last flight window?

Started Making Boosted Hop Flights: 100meters, 200meters…

It is time to focus on the tasks at hand. Immediately after the LLC flights were done, we could not do anything. That rain that started on the day we managed to qualify for the Level 2 LLC did not let up. In fact, it continued to rain for what seemed like 2 months straight after that.

The very next opportunity to fly was quite some time later, and we were able to conduct flights to 200 meters under the current waiver. Unfortunately, the weather did not hold out for us and the rains resumed making ponds appear where grass once ruled the surface.

Watched Masten struggle and almost qualify for Level 2 LLC, (Really Sweating!)

For Armadillo, the struggles Masten experienced with their Level 2 vehicle were reminiscent of issues we had in years past. You think you have everything working fine and something completely unexpected comes out of nowhere to thwart what would otherwise be a routine operation.

Ignition issues first, then what looks like a successful flight ends in a mass of melted plastic and wire preventing a return trip. Even worse, a fuel leak is discovered that caused the problem and appears to be an issue with the tank. Well it was a good run. There is always next year…

Wait a second, there is activity in Mojave on the eve of Paul Breed’s first flight window…

Later in the evening following the last attempt that occurred during 2 scheduled days for Masten, rumors were flying in regards to a possible attempt to be made on a third day.

As history bears to us all as spectators, Masten was able to squeeze just enough functionality into their system to make 2 spectacular flights within the timed window. As a competitor, the feeling is somewhat different…

First of all I want to recognize the accomplishments of the Level 2 profile flights by the Masten team as AWESOME! Now I must remove my spectator hat and address the accomplishment from the competitive point of view.

Sad and confused…

Warning! Armadillo Perspective ahead!

Many of the readers here will have the opportunity to criticize the statements made by members of the Armadillo Aerospace team as “Sour Grapes”. Feel free to do so!

As much as we cannot base business plans on prizes, we still do not savor the prospects of being second in any regard. We are competitors with a yearning for the highest honor in any competition.

When the difference of a single moment, decision, or event, affects your pocketbook to the tune of $500,000.00 and it is completely out of your control, it tends to make one feel a certain sense of desperation. The desperation is in regards to protecting ones financial interests for your own company, your own customers, and your own sponsors.

We think the Masten guys are a great bunch. They are very capable of designing and building hardware, and responding to the issues that arise in testing real flight hardware. Here was the time for them to “Risk everything” for the shot at the prize. They did, and it paid off.

More important than this however is what do they do with that success? They are faced with the same challenges as Armadillo now in a transition from “Prizes to Profits” as AST Director George Nield stated during the Award ceremony.

Even though everything that transpired was within the terms of the rules for the competition, we didn’t automatically wake up the next day feeling good about ourselves in regards to the outcome.

Masten puts up 2 Excellent flights, beating Armadillo’s landing Accuracy!

This in no way is intended to belittle the accomplishment of the Masten team. The accomplishment was a great one regardless of the circumstances that enabled such a marvelous demonstration of teamwork on their behalf, including people that are not on their payroll. They took advantage of every opportunity extended them and succeeded in the end.

Other teams out there are still hungry to prove themselves however. If prizes are offered again with specific performance and operational goals that are within their grasp, innovation within the New Space community will continue.

Drama, you want drama? Typically, drama is the thing our regulators want to avoid. This time however, it was there in buckets, and all within regulatory compliance. Nothing brings attention like good drama whether good or bad, and that’s all that counts… or is it?

End of Armadillo Rant.

More Boosted Hop Flights:

    1. 300 meters (1000 feet)

    2. 600 meters (2000 feet)

    3. 900 meters (3000 feet)

    4. 1200 meters (4000 feet)

As soon as it was possible, Armadillo began making flights to higher altitudes to evaluate the characteristics of tail first descent. These flights proved to be extremely informative as soon as we began to exceed 1000 feet. Following is video from the 3000 foot flight. It ended up being the most spectacular of the tests due to camera angles and such.

(WMV, 10.6MB)

We could go into some of the specific details we learned during these tests, but in the interest of prudence, we felt that some of this information might make it just a bit too easy for our competitors.

The Birds, a study in chaos.

While preparing for some of the boosted hop flights early in November, an ocean of grackles swallow the shop and surrounding area. The disadvantage of having an office with a window overlooking the runway is that events such as this turn out to be rather distracting.

Finally I succumb to the need to pull out Matt’s camera and commence recording some of the amazing sound and imagery we experienced on a completely windless day. These videos capture a small portion of the overall experience, and the real footage taken in high definition is far beyond what you see here.

We estimated nearly one million birds on the ground in front of the hanger and on top of the hanger. We suppose there were up to three or four acres of ground covered with birds at any one time.

(WMV, 14.4MB)

Initially reminiscent of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller, we see that some of the chaotic motion seems to be related to their collective sense of avoiding a threatening object. Interesting things happen when we throw ourselves in the middle of such a reactive dark mass. Russ plays the part of antagonist as we watch the waves of chaos anticipate his approach and resettle.

(WMV, 6.4MB)

Now as the entity finds itself beyond our influence, what is it that motivates such change in direction? Is it a competitive mob fighting for a limited amount of food or merely a social interaction of birds of a feather flocking together? I think I will stick to the physics of injector and combustion flow dynamics; it is easier to figure out!

(WMV, 13.4MB)

Perhaps working with our regulatory agencies in concert is as much artistic and chaotic as it is technical. Naw, it couldn’t be, working with FAA makes much more sense. Doesn’t it? As much as we seem to be swallowed by regulations that seem chaotic, I must say that the collective sense of avoidance is not their nature anymore. AST has done especially well in helping all of us with the regulations we face. Every would-be obstacle has been addressed with patience and logic by the AST team. Thanks!

Regulatory woes… Many issues, many delays, Especially hard work for AST.

Shortly after completing this series of tests, we had come to the end of our first waiver. The plan was to have the next waiver in place before the expiration of the first one. Unfortunately, there is always something that comes up to adjust the best laid plans.

Without going into great detail, suffice it to say that AST stepped up and took care of many interdepartmental issues within the FAA in order to get everything done for us before the next solid VTVL flight deadline.

Rocket Racing League takes full ownership of rocket operations!

Meanwhile, a milestone for Armadillo Aerospace and Rocket Racing League comes to fruition. For the very first time, a complete system was operated without the presence of any of the manufacturer’s representation on site. This may seem like a small thing in light of the fact we all knew it would eventually come, but getting there is always a good thing.

Training was of extreme importance and mixing the Armadillo expertise with Aircraft operations expertise provided by Rocket Racing turned out a nicely simplified system that the customer could use with ease and regularity.

Mike V., Marty, Deszo, are all full time Rocket Racing Employees now. Assisted by contracted chief test pilot Len Fox, they have been on top of the process of transferring operations exclusively to Rocket Racing. They have done an excellent job taking ownership of all the details from ordering supplies to making sure all of their logistics are handled on site.

Len has been involved with the project since the beginning, and Mike Vinther began working with Armadillo operations well over a year ago. Marty came on board with Rocket Racing about 6 months ago, and Deszo joined the fray in the last few months to complete the compliment of staff they needed to be autonomous.

With the introduction of a second aircraft, it follows logical sense that a second pilot would be brought on board to begin training. They contracted a second test pilot, Dave Morss, to fit the bill. He is an extremely capable test pilot that has done work with Len in the past.

The whole team has worked tirelessly as of late setting up their own ground support equipment including a nice RSV (Rocket Service Vehicle) and have the procedure requirements trimmed down for safe operations using only 4 people. This crew is well on its way to some really cool stuff!

Rocket Racer Tail 2 Arrives… Propulsion Module install.

Meanwhile, Rocket Racing League delivers the second airframe optimized around the Armadillo Propulsion module. The new airframe has many differences, and will certainly have better visibility with the pop up canopy versus the gull wing doors.

There are very little differences between the two propulsion modules, however there are some changes that are more conducive to reliability, weight, and service, based on our experience with T1. From an operations perspective however, the two systems are virtually identical.

Purdue University students begin SPEAR;

Students Performing Experiments on Armadillo Rockets.

With time coming down to the wire on the regulatory side of things, AST managed to get us a waiver just in time to resume VTVL flight testing with the addition of SPEAR 1.

Professor Steven Collicott and some of his students arrived in mid December after finals and just before Christmas in hopes that they could integrate their experiment onto an Armadillo rocket. They hoped to see the effect of a reduced gravity environment with liquids of different masses.

The students did a great job coming up with a system that would operate in a semiautonomous state after arming just before flight. Everything was packaged neatly and ready to go.

We conducted a tethered hover with their experiment on board and as always, Murphy shows up and things that worked perfectly back home began causing problems.

After an all night session in the hotel, they got everything running again with high hopes for the next day.

Unfortunately, due to no fault of theirs, the chain of events that followed did not allow them to collect the anticipated data. Unfortunately there was no way to attempt a repeat on the experiment, so everyone had to be satisfied with the integration exercise, and resolve to try again soon.

The students at Purdue University are blessed with a great professor in Steven Collicott. He uniquely captures the essence of a good experiment and provides excellent guidance for what to expect when it is complete. We look forward to many more opportunities to serve Professor Collicott and his students at Purdue.

More Engine Development…

On a side note, Armadillo had been conducting some experiments on a more efficient version of our film cooled engines with the new linked valve setup. This was a process ongoing for the 2 or 3 months prior to the visit from Purdue.

Sometimes it is a good thing to have curious minds asking good questions…

During a tour of the shop I was explaining how our particular rocket engines worked. While doing this I discovered that an injector we had performed no less than a half dozen tests on was plumbed up backwards from what I was pointing out. This immediately explained much more to me than I would have cared to admit at the moment.

Suffice it to say that it is indeed possible to film cool an engine with LOX…

Rocket Racer T2 begins ground tests.

With some testing before and after Christmas, the propulsion system takes its final shape and is ready to make the first bit of fire.

Since we have done so many of these types of systems before it should not provide us with anything new…

Everything is rolled into place, and sure enough, the minor issues of a cryo exercised fitting on the first fill gives us an opportunity to fix a quick leak. No other problems seem apparent.

In spite of minor differences in plumbing routs, and valve positions, all appears to be normal with the first run. This is a good thing, because tomorrow the FAA comes out to do the once over inspection for the certificate.

Rocket Racer T2 begins Taxi Tests.

The FAA inspection went well. They found a couple of things for us to fix and completed the paperwork. We ran the engine for them so they could verify it did what it was supposed to do, and all was well.

After they left, we still had enough daylight to roll out and conduct the low speed taxi testing. This testing will go through the basic operations of the system as if we are preparing for flight, but the engine thrust will be terminated well before rotation velocity.

Len ran through the paces a few times and made sure to test the brakes in varying degrees of urgency. Everything looked good after a half dozen four second runs, and was pulled back into the hanger to prepare for travel the next day.

It is somewhat more difficult to move two planes at the same time, but still not too bad. Of course it is painless to Armadillo because the Rocket Racing League crew handles that marvelously!

Logistically it made sense to conduct flight testing on both aircraft at the same venue and at the same time. Besides, the only way to put two birds in the air at the same time is to get the second pilot up to speed as quickly as possible with a bit of right seat time in T1, transitioning to the left, then into T2.

Coming soon!

The next update should hold some very interesting content including simultaneous flights of Rocket Racers as well as further news on multi-Mod work.

There has also been a new contract signed with NASA that has us building on the work we already started. That is all I will say for now, details later.

Hopefully it won’t take us six months to get an update out again, but that is the penalty for doing all of the work we have in front of us!

Miscellaneous Media

High speed video of one of the "tug-of-war" tethered hovers showing just the take-off and shutdown.

(WMV, 13.4MB)

Miscellaneous photos

Courtesy of NASA


© 2001-2011 Armadillo Aerospace, LLC. All rights reserved.