That’s the philosophy of John Carmack’s Armadillo Aerospace in Dallas, Texas, where last night I was treated to a test firing of the group’s newest ethanol-and-liquid-oxygen powered rocket engine.
The photo above is from a test a couple of months ago, from Carmack’s blog, taken by team archivist Matt Ross. It gives you a good sense of the setup for static tests.
After they finish filling the lox tank at right, the team retreats into the building and lowers a pair of steel garage doors. Call them blast doors. Carmack sits at a folding table just inside, where he fires the engine with a video gamer’s joystick and monitors it on a laptop computer.
The beast roaring outside for a few seconds made the trip worthwhile for me all on its own. The lower panel of the blast door just above the engine shook and rattled and on a TV monitor a gorgeous jet of bright blue flame shot through with shock diamonds stabbed the air.
Here’s some video of a test from the Armadillo website.
Carmack and his crew are at the point now where they’re milling new ignition plates and building other components almost as fast as they can burn them up in static fire tests.
They’re hard at work prepping for the Lunar Lander Challenge set for this October in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Their 600 pound Quad Vehicle, pictured below in another grab from the Armadillo website, will balance on the flame of the 5,000 pound thrust engine I saw being tested.
Carmack’s getting serious about turning Armadillo from a band of dedicated amateurs into a profit-making company, and he’s already lining up some business deals that could mark a real turning point for the company, even apart from a win at the Lunar Lander Challenge.
And as his team gains proficiency at building engines and flying unmanned craft, his ambitions are soaring; 64 of those 5,000 pound thrust engines, he told me, could send a payload into orbit.
Off to L.A. today for a visit to Mojave Spaceport tomorrow. Stay tuned.