It was a cold November day in the not-so-distant past when the X PRIZE space team ventured to Washington D.C. to attend an awards ceremony in honor of two ambitious commercial space companies -- Masten Space Systems and Armadillo Aerospace, who had claimed the prize purses of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander X PRIZE Challenge. We listened with excitement as representatives of the winning companies spoke of things to come in the near future: "Our next steps are to go higher and faster, and build up a lot more excitement for the idea of going to space," said Dave Masten, CEO of Masten Space Systems. That was followed by Phil Eaton of Armadillo: "We at Armadillo Aerospace are highly motivated to press on, and to use our vehicles and our developed technology to go higher and to fly farther and faster, and to provide a service for the commercial space industry."
The awards ceremony represented the end of the NGLLXPC, and yet it was abundantly clear to us that this was just the start for Armadillo Aerospace and Masten Space Systems. Six months later, several exciting announcements have helped validate this -- here are three examples of what I'm talking about:
1) Armadillo announces partnership with Space Adventures, Ltd.
I recall reading a quote from Eric Anderson once, where he stated that Space Adventures was originally started with the intention of selling suborbital spaceflights to customers. But today, the company is renowned for training and sending several wealthy customers (including Richard Garriott, Anousheh Ansari, Charles Simonyi, and several others) on orbital adventures to the International Space Station.
Well, the times are changing. Just a few weeks ago, Space Adventures announced a partnership with Armadillo Aerospace -- now the preferred provider for their suborbital spaceflight adventures. Further details were outlined this week at the International Space Development Conference. For $102,000, private explorers will be able to take the ride of a lifetime aboard one of Armadillo's suborbital space vehicles, which are currently in development. No word yet on when to expect this service to start, but we'd be wise to start saving now in order to be one of the first in line in a few years.
2) Masten Space Systems announces partnership with XCOR Aerospace
Another power pair was announced this week, as MSS joined forces with XCOR Aerospace. The Mojave neighbors are combining their respective strengths in Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) and LOX/Methane propulsion technologies, which seems like a smart match. Specific plans for the two companies haven't been announced yet, but Jeff Greason of XCOR stated that he is "excited about the possibilities". So are we.
3) Masten Space Systems completes first-ever rocket engine relight in mid-air (!)
This news is really, really cool. The video is much better than my description of the flight, so one of the videos from the flight on Wednesday (May 26) is embedded below. The vehicle that completed the flight is Xombie, which claimed the NGLLXPC Level I Second Place Prize in October 2009. If you are craving more rocketry after this video, then be sure to check out the YouTube channels maintained by MastenSpace and Ben Brockert.
Ben (of Masten) also posted several questions "he wished people would ask" about the relight flight on an amateur rocketry mailing list, with his answers. Here are a few of them:
Q: Why does [the rocket] translate backwards?
A: If the restart didn't go well, we didn't want to break a perfectly good concrete pad.
Q: How was the microgravity?
A: I don't know the IMU bias, but it looks like it did about 0.2 m/s/s. Atmo sucks, and the purge was on for part of it.
Q: How long was the "off"?
A: The engine was locked center and under the control of the start/stop sequence (rather than the attitude control) for just over 3 seconds.
Q: How windy was it?
A: Tower reported 7 knots when I called for auth. Not windy for Mojave, but fairly fast for that early in the day.
Congratulations to both Masten and Armadillo! We'll be watching with great interest as both companies continue to progress and achieve higher goals.