A Look Back at Space Tourism Version 1.0 as New Gaggle of Millionauts Prepares to Fly

The first space tourist, Dennis Tito, poses with Soyuz TM-32 crew mates Talgat Musabayev, and Yuri Baturin in 2001. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

For eight years, they thundered aloft in cramped Russian spacecraft from a former Soviet spaceport in Kazakhstan, battling bureaucracy and gravity to blaze a trail across the heavens and redefine what it meant to be a space traveler. No longer would access to orbit be limited to highly trained astronauts chosen on merit and working on behalf of their nations; instead, space would be open to any sufficiently healthy people with enough money and moxie to qualify.


EXOS Sarge 3 Launch Goes Awry, Booster Recovered

The SARGE 3 rocket ascends from Spaceport America. (Credit: EXOS Aerospace webcast)

SPACEPORT AMERICA, NM — EXOS Aerospace’s SARGE 3 launch went awry shortly after liftoff from Spaceport America on Saturday as the suborbital rocket suffered control problems only seconds into its flight.

Liftoff appeared nominal, but then the rocket began to veer from side to side as it ascended. It was not clear from the webcast what altitude the booster reached.

SARGE rocket descending under parachute. (Credit: EXOS Aerospace)

Ground control team members lost sight of the rocket for a period. They then spotted it dumping fuel as it descended under a parachute guided by GPS.

The reusable rocket successfully touched down not far from its launch site. The rocket’s nose cone also landed in the New Mexican desert under a drogue parachute.

At the end of the company’s webcast, an official said the booster had apparently suffered a problem with its gimbal system.

EXOS, which is based in Caddo Mills, Texas, is attempting to build a business flying payloads on suborbital flights. The company also has plans for an orbital launcher that would carry small satellites.

EXOS uses technology originally pioneered by Armadillo Aerospace, a now-defunct company founded by gaming programmer John Carmack.

Armadillo Vets Form New Space Company, Promise Awesome Stuff

exos_aerospace_logoVeterans of John Carmack’s hibernating Armadillo Aerospace have formed a new company dedicated to picking up with the game developer’s side project left off.

Exos Aerospace has an ambitious agenda to build four suborbital rockets within a year, and begin development of a human-rated rocket during that same time period. The goal is to provide customers “with affordable, repeatable, and reliable commercial spaceflight with accelerated turnaround,” according to the company’s website.

Exos’ leadership includes Armadillo veterans Russell Blink and Phil Eaton, who are both listed as co-founders.

SARG is Bummed Out About Armadillo Hibernation Thing

Credit: Armadillo Aerospace
STIG rocket (Credit: Armadillo Aerospace)

Statement from SARG Chair Dr. Steven Collicott on Suborbital Research Needs
August 9, 2013

“The Suborbital Applications Researchers Group (SARG) of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation notes John Carmack’s August 2, 2013 statement regarding the hibernation of rocket development at Armadillo Aerospace. The STIG rocket appeals to researchers by providing many of the advantages characteristic of next-generation suborbital vehicles including a gentle lift-off, pressurized payload bay, late payload access before launch, rapid payload access after landing, and a lower cost than traditional sounding rockets. Armadillo’s success to date, including domestic and international payloads lofted and safely recovered on several mission development flights and a flight to 95km memorably captured on video, highlights how close their hard work has brought them to achieving an important operational research capability eagerly awaited by many scientists. The researchers of SARG encourage Armadillo and all of the new suborbital companies in their pursuit of success with investors and vehicles.”

— Dr. Steven Collicott
SARG Chair

Suborbital Space Tourism Vehicle on Hold with Armadillo’s “Hibernation”

Armadillo Aerospace and Space Adventures had grand plans for a suborbital tourism vehicle that seem quite distant now with John Carmack’s announcement that his rocket building company has run out of money. Here’s a bit of pre-hibernation nostalgia for those who remember those optimistic days. For others who are just joining us, here’s what the present was supposed to look like. More evidence, if anyone needed it, that the future just ain’t what it used to be.

Armadillo Out of Money, in “Hibernation”

John Carmack

As had been rumored for several months now, Armadillo Aerospace is currently inactive. Jeff Foust at NewSpace Journal reports that company is essentially out of money and is currently in “hibernation.”

“The situation that we’re at right now is that things are turned down to sort of a hibernation mode,” Carmack said Thursday evening at the QuakeCon gaming conference in Dallas. “I did spin down most of the development work for this year” after the crash, he said.


A Brief History of NewSpace Suborbital Launches

SpaceShipTwo in powered flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo in powered flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

This week, the The FAA has on its website lists of the 216 licensed and 28 permitted launches the agency has approved since 1989. They provide fascinating insights into the state of the U.S. launch industry during that period.

In this excerpt, we will examine permitted and licensed “NewSpace” suborbital launches by Armadillo Aerospace, Blue Origin, Scaled Composites and SpaceX. We will see how prizes and competitions have helped to spur on launch vehicle development, the long gaps that can follow initial spurts of progress as companies take the next steps, and how few flights some billionaires are actually getting for their money.


NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program Selects 21 Additional Space Technology Payloads

NASA LOGOWASHINGTON (NASA PR)– NASA has selected 21 space technology payloads for flights on commercial reusable launch vehicles, balloons, and a commercial parabolic aircraft.

This latest selection represents the sixth cycle of NASA’s continuing call for payloads through an announcement of opportunity. More than 100 technologies with test flights now have been facilitated through NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Flight Opportunities Program.


A Look Back at Suborbital Space in 2012

Excerpted from the FAA report, “Commercial Space Transportation: 2012 Year in Review”.

FAA Suborbital Flight Summary

On October 6, at New Mexico’s Spaceport America, Armadillo Aerospace’s STIG-B suborbital reusable vehicle (SRV) made the only FAA-licensed suborbital launch of 2012. However, six other suborbital vehicles flew under experimental permits or Class 3 waivers.

The STIG-B flight was the first FAA-licensed launch from Spaceport America. The launch experienced an in-flight abort. It did not reach its planned altitude, but the vehicle was successfully recovered intact and later used to conduct launch tests in November and December. Armadillo successfully launched its STIG-A vehicle under a Class 3 Waiver in January, but the vehicle was lost during recovery.


America’s Rocket Renaissance

rutan_talkBy Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

During recent public talks, Scaled Composites Founder Burt Rutan has bemoaned the lack of recent rocket development in the United States. After the initial burst of creativity in the 1950’s and 1960’s, decades went by with very few new rockets being developed. He has also pointed to Scaled Composites’ SpaceShipTwo, SpaceX’s Dragon and Stratolaunch Systems air-launch project (which he worked on for 20 years) as the only serious developments in the field at present.

My first thought was: Burt’s wrong. There’s a lot more going on than just that. Including developments just down the flight line in Mojave that he somehow fails to mention. And my second thought was: well, just how wrong is Burt, exactly?

A lot, it turns out.


Armadillo’s STIG-B Flies, Suffers In-Flight Abort

Armadillo Aerospace successful launched its STIG-B rocket from Spaceport America earlier today. However, some sort of abort occurred during the flight, so it’s not clear how high it reached. The objective was to send the payload above 100 kilometers, the boundary of space.

Armadillo founder John Carmack has Tweeted some updates:

John Carmack @ID_AA_Carmack

> Armadillo flight at Spaceport America hit an abort limit, but the recovery system functioned properly, so the vehicle is safe.

> Need to analyze data and fix a couple things, will fly again in a couple weeks.
A press release follows after the break.


Two Launches Scheduled from Spaceport America in October

UP Aerospace Spaceloft XL rocket

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

Spaceport America will host suborbital launches by Armadillo Aerospace and UP Aerospace, each of which will mark a “first” for the desert launch base. New Mexico Spaceport Authority Executive Director Christine Anderson outlined the missions in a PowerPoint presentation to the NMSA board on Monday.


More Details on Armadillo’s FAA Launch License

Neil Milburn of Armadillo Aerospace answered questions from reporters after the announcement that the FAA has granted the Texas-based company a reusable launch license for the STIG-B rocket. Here is a summary:

  • FAA license for reusable STIG-B flights is for two years
  • First STIG-B flight set for Aug. 25 – 26
  • Two experiments on first flight — one from Germany on how particles behave, the other from Purdue University on injecting one liquid into another
  • STIG-B rocket is 20 inches in diameter and 34 feet long (STIG-A was 15 inches in diameter and 30 feet long)
  • STIG-B capable of launching payloads of 50 kg (110 pounds) to 100 kilometers suborbital altitude
  • Goal is to fly STIG-B rockets once per month (24 launches)
  • STIG-B is a testbed for technology to be used on suborbital human space vehicle
  • Philosophy is to fly tech as often as possible and to do it on cost-effective rockets
  • Human suborbital program depends upon the success of STIG-B
  • Human vehicle will have 8 rockets
  • STIG-A flew under a FAA waiver
  • Cannot fly STIG-B under waiver because they will be flying commercial payloads
  • Have spent a small fortune on Honeywell sensors to carefully measure the precise mico-gravity environment on flights

Armadillo Aerospace Gets Launch License for Reusable STIG-B

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (Armadillo PR) — At Newspace 2012 hosted by the Space Frontier Foundation in Santa Clara CA, Dr. George Nield, Associate Administrator for the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation, presented Neil Milburn, Armadillo Aerospace’s VP of Program Management,with an Operator Launch License for their STIG (Suborbital Transport with Inertial Guidance) class of reusable suborbital launch vehicles. This is Armadillo Aerospace’s first launch license although they have already received three launch permits for their lunar lander class vehicles.