Friday, October 24, 2008

If Armadillos Could Fly

Well, they can!!

I would like to join with space enthusiasts everywhere to give my most enthusiastic congratulations to Armadillo Aerospace for winning Level 1 of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge today. To win Level 1, you have to launch a rocket from one pad, fly to 50 meters altitude, hover for 90 seconds, and land at another pad 100 meters away. Then you have to make a similar flight with the same vehicle back to the first pad. Sound simple? It's not! It's taken them several years to win, and no one else has even come close. Level 2 is harder still. You have to stay airborne for 180 seconds on each flight, and the second landing pad has boulders and craters just like the lunar surface. Armadillo will try to win Level 2 tomorrow.

Over the past few years I have often referred to Armadillo as the poster boys of amateur rocketry. I always meant that in the best possible way. Founded by John Carmack, creator of Doom and other famous video games, they started building rockets in a garage on the weekends eight years ago. Starting with ungainly little spider-like vehicles, look at what they have achieved! They have built engines for NASA and the Air Force. This year they won the contract to provide the rocket engines for the Rocket Racing League's airplane fleet. And not only did they win the NGLLC today, but Armadillo and Rocket Racing League announced they will form a joint venture with the state of New Mexico to build and fly passenger-carrying suborbital rocket vehicles over the next couple of years. Armadillo will be building the hardware.

So Armadillo Aerospace is all grown up now. They are poster boys no more. To John Carmack & co. I say: You guys are top flight professionals in my book from now on! Congratulations on your Rocket Racer contract, on your new joint venture announced today, and again on your level 1 win. Here’s hoping for a level 2 win tomorrow!